A world-leading initiative to power scheduled rail services from carbon-free electricity sold by a solar co-operative in a Sussex beauty spot faces a crunch deadline this Thursday.

Activist volunteers and investors in Cuckmere Community Solar are pressing East Sussex’s Wealden district council for the right to link a co-operatively owned solar farm of up to 4MWp to the line between Eastbourne and Lewes. 

“(The application) relates to our need for planning consent for the direct wire from our site to the railway substation”, Alister Scott, the Cuckmere co-op’s chair, writes this week in a note to supporters. 

Network Rail is on public record as warmly endorsing the co-operative’s planning application. In its comments supporting the co-op’s innovation, the track operator tells Wealden planners: 

“We are in full support of this project, which not only supports our vision of a low-emission railway, but also provides benefits to the local environment and local communities too”.

Comments for or against Cuckmere Community Solar’s application can be registered here. Noon this Thursday 16 September is the deadline.  In a newsletter sent on Monday, Scott is seeking as much expressed support as possible from sympathisers, both UK-wide and local.

Cuckmere Community Solar’s application comes after years of setbacks, objections and insecurities. 

In 2013 commercial developers proposed a solar PV farm in the picturesque Cuckmere valley.  Community organisers helped overcome objections, persuading the firm to support a second farm, this time owned and controlled as a not-for-profit, one-person-per-vote co-operative. 

It took five years for the co-op to secure planning consent for its own 3.75 MW farm.  As Scott wrote this month to supporters: “4MW just happens to be the same amount of power used by a standard train”. 

The Conservatives’ withdrawal in 2019 of cash support for solar forced a major re-think.  Ollie Pendered’s Community Energy South was active in promoting the co-op’s solar-to-season-tickets integration.

Completion of its PV farm near the village of Berwick is scheduled for March 2022. A £2.5 million grant from the government’s Getting Building Fund last year, plus support from financiers including ethical lenders Triodos Bank, have helped pin down that deadline. 

The project will build on success in Riding Sunbeam’s technical trials, including integrating a small ground array trackside at Aldershot station into trains’ power supply. 

Brent Pure Energy 

Solar activists in north-west London are seeking funds from small investors. Brent Pure Energy have extended until 30 September their deadline to raise a final £65,000 towards the £195,000 needed to instal 300kWp of PV modules on Capital City Academy in Willesden. The project is planned to shrink power bills by up to £10k each year. 

Not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, the community benefit society’s offer is a non-guaranteed 4% yearly return, with capital returned over 20 years. Minimum stake is  £100.   Brent Pure Energy’s offer prospectus is here. 


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