Pioneering community renewables in Oxford

A partnership between an Oxford-based social enterprise and the local Council provides a blueprint for financing community energy projects, writes Wendy Twist. And with £2.3 million in the bank, things are really starting to move ...

"Now we're green on our buses, green in our depot, and green on the roof too!"says Luke Marion, finance director of Oxford Bus Company.

"Our headquarters at Cowley House are now one of the most eco-friendly commercial buildings in the city."

His enthusiasm for things green is inspired by the 140kW solar PV installation on the company's offices - currently the largest solar PV installation in Oxford.

The scheme also pioneered a new approach to financing solar PV and other renewable energy projects in Oxford - and one that could soon be spreading across the country.

The model, developed by Low Carbon Hub, an Oxford-based social enterprise, provides long-term investment for renewable energy schemes will come via community share offers.

This gives a good deal to Oxford Bus Company, which benefits from free daytime electricity off the panels to run its offices and charge up the batteries that power its electric buses - and of course it gets to reduce its own CO2 footprint.

Everyone benefits

But it also delivers investors a good economic return - from the sale of electricity, and the incentives paid to renewables generators out of a levy on consumers' bills. "With the support of the Hub, our solar panels have proved a big success," says Luke, "not just for us but for the community too."

Oxford Bus Company is the Low Carbon Hub's first commercial partner, and proud of it. But it's not Low Carbon Hub's first success story. That accolade goes to the Osney Lock Hydro project in West Oxford.

When shares in the project were floated in April 2013, the popularity was such that the scheme received more than double the target investment. More recently Oxford North Community Renewables raised £92,000 in three weeks to install 63.5kW of solar PV on two local schools.

"We're pleased to be one of the Low Carbon Hub's first solar schools", says Joan Mortars, headteacher at Wheatley Church of England Primary Academy. "The scheme means we will generate clean, green electricity and save money to reinvest in our children."

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