Preston solar panel project designed to give a helping hand to those facing fuel poverty because of high energy bills

Prestonians struggling to pay their energy bills could benefit from a new scheme that will also generate clean power in the city.
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Community Energy Preston (CEP) has spent the last year searching for suitable rooftops on which the solar panels that will underpin the project can be installed.

The idea is that the owners of the buildings who agree to hosting the sun-seeking kit will benefit from the energy that the panels provide, while any surplus will be used by a co-operative group to fund community initiatives designed to help reduce fuel poverty amongst the city’s residents.

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The Lancashire Post understands that CEP is close to reaching the number of roofs required to launch the scheme. The volunteer group has approached colleges, housing associations, businesses and churches in order to find suitable sites.

The scheme would see solar panels lowering bills not just for the buildings that install them - but also households facing fuel povertyThe scheme would see solar panels lowering bills not just for the buildings that install them - but also households facing fuel poverty
The scheme would see solar panels lowering bills not just for the buildings that install them - but also households facing fuel poverty

Now, community investors are being sought to buy shares in the scheme in order to cover the upfront costs of installing the equipment.

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Preston City Council has given a £40,000 grant to the Preston Co-operative Development Network (PCDN) to help the organisation recruit a project co-ordinator from the local area who has the necessary expertise to bring the plans to life.

That will involve establishing a type of co-operative known as a "community benefit society", which will organise the community share offer and commission a technical partner to check any rooftops proposed for solar panels are suitable to accommodate them.

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It is hoped that the initiative - similar versions of which have been successfully rolled out by community groups elsewhere in the UK - will bring three-fold benefits that will encompass the building owners, under-pressure Preston households and the broader environment.

CEP member Paul Taylor said that the group was grateful for the local authority’s support - and is looking forward to setting up Preston’s first community energy business.

“As local people concerned about climate change, we are committed to increasing the supply of clean, low-cost energy and to helping those facing fuel poverty. [This] is a great way to achieve both these goals,” he explained.

Cllr Valerie Wise, Preston City Council’s cabinet member for community wealth building, added: “Supporting the community energy sector in Preston demonstrates the council’s commitment to cleaner, cheaper energy and to sharing the benefits with those in greatest need.

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“The project provides a great example of Community Wealth Building in action – shared ownership of clean energy infrastructure for community benefit.”

PCDN was formed back in 2017 to promote and support the development of co-operatives and similar forms of enterprise in the city.