By Joseph Hildred

Let’s be honest, beyond the recent craze of installing solar PV panels on the roofs of our homes how many of us can actually say we are familiar with renewable technology at a local level?

The fact is there’s a wide range of renewable technology out there which can be effective at a community level. Ok, maybe you won’t get a micro hydro turbine in your back garden, but perhaps there’s a river nearby where a community hydro generator could be installed.

In one of our own ‘attitude trackers’ in the not too distant past 44% of people asked would like to see more local demonstration of renewable technology, and 40% would be keen to see their street supplied from a communal renewal energy source. The results of the same survey also showed that, whilst people are keen to see and even utilise renewable energy in their community, they are not ready to implement it themselves.

Enter the Rural Carbon Challenge fund. One of my colleagues previously talked up a share option scheme for hydroelectricity in Saddleworth – but now there’s six other new community based renewable energy projects for England’s Northwest.

The projects, which have received a total of over £2.1 million funding between them, aim to deliver a change to the way energy is generated in the rural Northwest. What’s more, they’re expected to save 58,000 tonnes of carbon, create 16 jobs, and of course provide the training to go with them.

With our partners Defra and Envirolink Northwest, we selected the most innovative projects that also offered good value for money and could show others in the region how it’s done. All of the projects will be up and running by October 2013.

A bit more about the six projects this blog hasn’t covered before:

Blencathra Renewable Energy – Low Carbon Vision
Blencathra’s huge selling point is the educational programmes on offer alongside micro hydro and biomass technologies, that should really inspire others in the region.

Cheshire and Warrington Rural Biomass (CHERUB)
The Mersey Forest are creating a sub-regional cluster of biomass heating installations in Cheshire and Warrington, specifically targeting off gas grid community and business buildings, in order to provide training in the installation of the technologies.

Cockerham Green Energy Company
Cockerham Green Energy Company is a co-operative of local farmers who have received funds for a 330KW anaerobic digestion plant, which will produce heat and electricity to nearby farms. The plant will be fuelled by the waste products of the nearby farms, along with a small amount of excess grass silage.

Halton Carbon Positive
A biomass district heating system and micro hydro turbine are being fitted to provide heat and electricity to nearby new build housing. The development, which will be built to PassivHaus standard will be the first carbon neutral co-housing development in the UK, includes the refurbishment of a mill to provide eco-friendly work spaces.

Generating Success
Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO) are developing a series of community renewable ‘Trailblazers’ designed to inspire rural community groups to deliver their own renewable projects.  GMCVO are being funded to deliver the first three Trailblazers, which will include one new build community venue. Each of the Trailblazer venues will have solar PV installed.

Anaerobic Digestion Delivering Sustainability and Upland Prosperity (ADDS+UP)
Low Luckens Organic Resource Centre, in the far north of Cumbria have been given funding to build a small scale anaerobic digester which will provide heat and electricity for the farm, with some surplus being exported to the National Grid.  The carbon dioxide produced will also be captured, stored and used to promote organic vegetable growth in poly tunnels. Real rural innovation.

Whilst the outputs of the RCCF may appear impressive, that’s not where the benefits stop. The true success of the fund will not be measured in green kW produced and CO2 saved, but by the legacy it creates. The hope is that the projects will kick start a generation of future projects, inspiring those that may have at first been apprehensive to take the plunge.

It’s about being that spark – starting something that paves the way for a new generation of renewable energy projects that will shape the future of rural areas.  You can find out more about each project by reading the factsheets on the Energy Saving Trusts RCCF page.