Locals in Staffordshire to save hundreds after new council-backed project to install solar panels

The sun is shining on people who struggle to heat their homes and it’s thanks to a sense of community

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The Independent Online

Here’s a pleasing scheme that could be adopted across the country to help those struggling to afford to heat their homes.

A council-backed project is hoping to reduce fuel poverty by installing solar panels on council bungalows in Staffordshire.

Chase Community Solar is being funded by a community share offer to deliver free solar electricity to tenants. The project, supported by Cannock Chase Council, has already raised £220,000 and has a target of £370,000, which would pay for panels on 150 homes.

It launched a smaller pilot project in 2012 in Norton Canes and this has proved a success, not least for those who have benefited from the project, such as Pat and Richard Astbury, who are both unable to work due to ill health. They reckon they’ve saved as much as £150, which can make a huge difference when you’re on a financial knife-edge.

Kate Sadler, a Chase Community Solar board member, tells me: “We are expecting to be able to save tenants between £2 and £4 a week. That means £100 to £200 a year, which can be a godsend.”

Imagine yourself in the same position. The most vulnerable people can’t afford to improve their homes to make them more energy efficient, which is why there are various schemes and grants to help them.

Solar energy can play a key part improving energy efficiency, as well as helping the environment by reducing carbon emissions, but the cost of installing panels is a deterrent. Community share issues may be an ideal solution. Those who put up their cash not only help to improve their community but may also get a decent return. At Chase Community Solar there’s a projected 7 per cent return for 20 years, with the shares expected to qualify for tax relief. The project is also attractive to councils as it helps both their tenants and their carbon footprint.

Other communities and councils could learn a  positive lesson from Cannock Chase.

‘Our amazing saving’: Pat and Richard Astbury

We live in Norton Canes in Cannock and had solar panels installed as part of a pilot scheme run by Chase Community Solar in April 2012. Both of us suffer from serious ill health and are unable to work, so money is tight. You do worry about the bills when you’re both not working.

But with the panels, I now don’t have to sit here constantly thinking that we should turn everything off. We’ve saved over a third of our electricity bill – at least £150. It’s amazing and we’ve got a bit more money to spend on the grandchildren now. I thoroughly recommend it to others.

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