Energetic Middlesex Street Estate’s solar panels bid

Residents want to emulate the success of other schemes. Photo credit: Repowering London

The Middlesex Street Estate is in the midst of a fascinating green energy micro-revolution.

With climate change posing obvious global challenges for us all, a group of residents have decided to adopt a bottom-up response; proposing an array of solar panels be installed on our estate to generate clean, renewable energy that will be used locally and have the potential to financially benefit locals.

I met up with the brainchild behind the project, local resident and Councillor Jason Pritchard to learn more about these exciting proposals.

From his flat high up in Petticoat Tower we were able to look down on the roofs of the lower Petticoat Square complex directly below us.

It’s a substantial but completely barren piece of real estate; an empty expanse of flat, grey concrete.

This is the very space that Councillor Pritchard has earmarked to put to substantially better use. He states that he was motivated to find out what people might be able to do at a local level to help de-carbonise our environment.

Councillor Pritchard continues that his goal is to emulate several Community Energy Schemes that have already been successfully established on housing estates in other parts of London, including projects at Brixton, Vauxhall, and North Kensington.

These have all involved local people working together and forming local energy co-operatives with the goal of generating clean, renewable, solar energy.

The model proposed for the Middlesex Street Estate envisages local people being able to join a similar energy co-operative, provisionally known as the City of London Community Energy Group, which would be run as a Community Benefit Society.

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Residents want to emulate the success of other schemes. Photo credit: Repowering London

People would be able to join for just £1 on a ‘one member, one vote’ philosophy. This is an important element of the model as it ensures community ownership and management of the electricity generated. In other words, the panels and the electricity they produce would belong to the members.

The capital finance required will be £48,000 to purchase and install the solar panels. Like the schemes mentioned above, it is proposed that this will be raised through a community share offer that will enable local residents the opportunity of investing financially in the scheme.

Once installed, the solar panels start producing clean, green energy that would then be sold directly to the building owner at a very competitive rate.

This would power communal areas of the Middlesex Street Estate, such as lighting on the podium and in the car parks, thus generating a long-term income for the energy co-operative. Any surplus energy can also be sold on to a licensed energy supplier at market rates.

The profits generated would be used to maintain the solar panels, with all additional surplus income being distributed as dividends to the shareholders who have financially invested in the scheme.

Average return on investment for very similar schemes to the one proposed is 3% per annum, meaning that this is an attractive investment opportunity. That’s a better rate than what is currently offered by cash ISAs, for example.

However, Councillor Pritchard is keen to stress that the project is not just about shiny solar panels, clean energy, and financial returns for investors. Another important aim is to get local people involved at the coalface in order to provide them with opportunities.

For example, there exists the very real potential for apprenticeships for local youngsters to learn more about maintaining solar panels.

Another important initiative emerging from the scheme would be to raise awareness among residents about fuel poverty and to help them take proactive measures to reduce their energy bills. The model looks to provide as many palpable, positive benefits for the local community as possible.

Lest you might be tempted to write all of this off as an unrealistic pipe dream, you should know that some very substantial progress has already been made towards making this project a reality.

Local residents have already successfully applied for a £12,450 grant from the Mayor of London under the auspices of his London Community Energy Fund.

This money has enabled industry experts to become involved in the project at a very early stage.

Initial feasibility studies have already been undertaken which confirm that the project is most certainly viable. It has been calculated that the Middlesex Street Estate would be capable of providing 50KwP of solar energy via 200 solar panels being installed on the estate’s roof.

In recent months, local residents have been working extremely closely with Repowering London, a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in facilitating the co-production of community-owned renewable energy.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the City of London Corporation is very receptive to the idea in principle, and the proposals have already been extensively discussed by the housing management sub committee, with members enthusiastic about the project.

Working alongside Repowering London and the local authority, residents are now arranging for a structural survey to be carried out, which is the next stage of the project.

Residents have also recently successfully applied for further funding from City of London’s Stronger Communities Grant to help maximise community participation in the project.

“It’s been fantastic to see how supportive the City has been with all of this,” says Councillor Pritchard. “Having the local authority behind our proposals is so important”.

I don’t know about you, but I am extremely enthused by this project. All the signs point towards this being something that local people will be able to make a reality.

The community is already working with experts in their field and encouraging noises are coming from the local authority, despite the fact that nothing like this has ever been done before in the City of London.

We have seen from similar projects in the Capital just what can be achieved when a group of committed residents get together to tackle pollution and climate change. It’s still early days and Councillor Pritchard reiterates how important it is for local people to get involved and assume ownership of the project.

Is this something you would like to be involved in or know more about? If so, you can contact Dave or Eva on 020 3674 7519 or send an email to [email protected].

Also, check the residents’ notice boards for information on the monthly public meetings that will be held at Artizan Street Library.

Here, you can meet the experts and other residents and help make Portsoken’s clean, green solar power station a reality. I think that’s a pretty empowering idea, don’t you?

Ian McPherson is a City of London Guide who lives on the Middlesex Street Estate with his partner and daughter.