Opportunity to “share” a piece of the sun

Northern Ireland’s first community-owned solar energy enterprise has launched a public Community Share offer at Stormont on March 3.

NICE (Northern Ireland Community Energy) hope to raise £150,000 in order to begin installation of PV solar panels on buildings that are owned by third sector organisations such as community groups and charities.

The new enterprise is the brainchild of a group of volunteers with a track record in renewable energy and co-operative models. They developed a community solar project that would allow them to create economies of scale, shared technical expertise, and to grow the knowledge base in Northern Ireland.

The enterprise is offering free installation of solar panels to a number of third sector organisations. These groups will benefit from electricity at a greatly discounted price for twenty years – while also supporting a more environmentally sustainable method of producing energy. Any surplus energy will be sold to the electricity Grid and NICE hopes to be able to deliver a return of approximately 4% to investors as well as investing in a community fund providing for energy saving improvements to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland.

Steven Agnew, Chair of the All Party Group on Co-operatives and Mutuals is hosting the launch in Stormont and said: “I am delighted to help launch this exciting Community Share offer. It is important that the benefit of public investment in renewable energy technology reaches as many people as possible including those who may be fuel poor. I am delighted that NICE will be investing any funds raised from this scheme into community energy saving initiatives to tackle fuel poverty. Schemes like this ensure that renewable energy investments provide a return for our economy and our community, as well as contributing to efforts to tackle climate change”

NICE is a Community Benefit society meaning that participating building owners and individual investors co-own the enterprise on a ‘one-member one-vote’ basis.

“Traditional energy companies aim to maximise profit that reaches a small number of individuals. Our community-owned co-operative is based on a decentralised and far more equitable model that helps the environment, helps the local community, and is built upon principles of fairness,” explained director Andrew McMurray, who was also behind the successful Drumlin Wind project, which raised £3.9 million through its community share offers.

NICE has been supported by Co-operative Alternatives, a co-operative commissioned by the Building Change Trust to run its Community Shares, Ready! pilot project to increase awareness of Community Shares in Northern Ireland.

“This project is ideal for a Community Share offer because it has clear community benefits and will deliver via a strong community model. Community-owned energy projects strengthen the local economy and build community resilience. ” Tiziana O’Hara from Co-Operative Alternatives said.

They have identified a number of potential buildings and are working with the third sector groups to move forward; they have already completed a pilot on the roof of Mediation NI’s offices on University Street in Belfast. Other organisation that wish to participate are urged to contact NICE via its website

This pre-launch installation demonstrates the directors’ commitment and confidence in the project as a whole and also gave them vital feedback from the business.

Rob Colwell, office and finance manager of Mediation NI, said: “We were amazed at how straightforward and quick this has been. We discussed it with our board and two months later the panels were in place on the roof generating low cost electricity for us. We estimate that we will reduce our energy costs by 50% each year. This is a win-win situation – as an organisation we support green ideals and we are always trying to reduce our carbon footprint and save money. In addition, we liked that NICE is a cooperative – we support the ideal of working in collaboration with other organisations and also helping the community.”

More information about NICE can be found on www.nicommunityenergy.org.