Northern Ireland’s first community-owned solar energy enterprise has launched a public Community Share offer at Stormont (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.
he 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.
Notes to editors:
About Northern Ireland Community Energy
NICE is a community-owned energy enterprise established to provide low carbon energy services across the region. Community ownership means that the assets (in this case the solar panels) are collectively owned and any profit generated will be re-invested for the benefit of the community. NICE will be similar to a distributed power station for Northern Ireland owned by the people and it will shift the way we own and produce energy. Our vision is for NICE to re-invest any surplus in energy efficiency and low carbon technologies in the local community.
About Co-operative Alternatives
Co-operative Alternatives is the only body in Northern Ireland entirely devoted to developing successful co-operatives and community benefit societies. We offer high quality range of advice on legal, financial including on community share offers, business and democratic governance. We provide support to all groups who want to do business in a co-operative way.
Co-operatives are democratic enterprises trading for the benefit of a community and its membership. Their focus is local and their practice is based on the co-operative values of equality, fairness and solidarity.
We have been commissioned by the Building Change Trust to deliver the “Community Shares, Ready!” programme of support, an alternative financing model that is suitable for many community groups, charities and social enterprises.
More information at www.coopalternatives.coop
About the Building Change Trust
The Building Change Trust was established in 2008 by the Big Lottery Fund with a National Lottery grant of £10million as an investment for community capacity building and promotion of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland.
The Trust supports the community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland through the development, delivery of, and learning from a range or programmes including commissioned work, awards programmes and other interventions.
Between now and 2018, our resources will be used to support the community and voluntary sector to achieve more and better collaboration, increased sustainability and to be a learning sector which identifies, shares and acts on lessons of others’ actions. This work will be carried out across 6 overarching thematic areas: Collaboration, Social Finance, Social Innovation, Inspiring Impact, Leadership and Creative Space for Civic Thinking.
About the Big Lottery Fund
The Big Lottery Fund, the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors, has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. It was established by Parliament on 1 December 2006.
Big Lottery Fund NI Press Office: Amanda Doherty, Head of Communications & Press: 028 90 551 472. Out of hours: 07760 171434
Full details of the work of the Big Lottery Fund, its programmes and awards are available on the website: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk