Healthy Returns for Reading’s First Community Energy Scheme

Reading’s first ever community renewable energy society is already delivering a healthy return.

Less than year after it was launched, the Reading Community Energy Society (RCES) scheme has seen more than 700 solar panels installed on community buildings including places of worship, council buildings and charity buildings in just three months. Over the next 20 years, carbon emissions will be cut by around 1,679 tonnes, or 82 tonnes per year, as a result.

Created by local volunteers – working alongside Reading Borough Council and Energy4 All – the scheme works by offering shareholders a return on investments, while at the same time reducing climate change-causing emissions, and helping communities to benefit from the local generation of clean energy. Shareholder investments in turn pays for solar panel installations.

A share offer publicly launched in May 2016 was fully subscribed in just two weeks. More than 120 people invested over £224,000 in the scheme, with the Council itself buying 10,000 shares.

The scheme takes advantage of 20-year fixed tariffs – available for community buildings only – at a price of 8 pence per kWh. The price is less than existing tariffs and offers good value in the future as energy prices are expected to continue to rise. Shareholders receive an initial return of 5% per year on their investments. All remaining profits are then fed into a community benefit fund to help raise funds for local charitable activities with local sustainability and energy efficiency projects. The Community Benefit fund is expected to raise £132k over the 20 years period of the project.

A report on the early success of the RCES scheme will go to a meeting of the Council Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee on Tuesday April 4th. It can be found at item 12 here:–Transport-Committee-4-APR-2017

Cllr Tony Page, Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport said:

“This is Reading’s first ever community energy scheme and it is already proving to be a big success, and a win-win for everyone involved.

“Community benefits are not something you would normally associate with any share scheme, so this really is a share scheme with a bit of a difference.

“It is unique in that it is projected to make healthy returns for investors, it is an invaluable source of funding for local communities and of course helps Reading make further significant cuts in carbon emissions. This another example of the Council practising what it preaches in its Climate Change Strategy.”

In August 2015, the Government announced that it was dramatically reducing the subsidies available for photovoltaic solar panels called Feed-in-Tariff (FiT), but an exemption for community schemes was subsequently announced.  The Council moved quickly to join forces with a local group, the Berkshire Energy Pioneers, and work with an organisation called Energy4All to pre-register 28 buildings to make up a community solar scheme.

Last year it was revealed Reading as a town  had achieved a 32% drop carbon emissions produced between 2005 and 2014, and 38% less per head of population. The figures are the best in Berkshire and the 5th best performance in the South East out of 74 local authorities. Nationally Reading has the 27th best performance out of 408 local authorities reported, in terms of the reduction per head of population.

For its part, a 37% cut in Reading Borough Council’s carbon footprint is estimated to have saved £5.5 million in energy costs since 2008.  It means the Council is ahead of target as it aims to half its carbon footprint by 2020.

Oscar Mortali

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