Help a trail-blazing school go solar this Christmas!

Amy Cameron from the carbon cutting organisation 10:10 shares in this post how some schools in the Diocese of Oxford are trail-blazing a funding model that may be one of few ways community buildings can install solar in the future, and how you can help!

10:10, the carbon cutting organisation, began in 2009 with the aim of helping businesses, organisations and individuals reduce their emissions by 10% in a single year. Our plan was to inspire and motivate people towards a change that was fast, achievable and meaningful. Since we launched, over 125,000 individuals have pledged to cut their carbon in over 42 countries, alongside 6000 businesses, 3000 organisations and over 2500 schools, universities and colleges.

The results of our sign-ups to date have been impressive, with everyone from Tottenham Hotspurs cutting 14% to the British Embassy in Beijing cutting 48%, but we’re always looking for new ways to get people acting on climate change. That’s why, this September, we launched Solar Schools, a groundbreaking project to save energy, help schools, build communities and, most importantly, enable thousands of people to engage positively with renewable energy.

The idea, in a nutshell, is to help schools across the country generate their own solar energy by raising the cost of panels from the local community. Each school gets its own webpage, populated with empty solar panels. Family, neighbours, friends, local businesses and ex-pupils sponsor segments of panel by buying vouchers or donating online. The whole scheme lives and breathes community interaction, with pictures and messages of support left by donors.

Recently, it’s been difficult to avoid stories about chaos in the solar industry.  With the government making rapid cuts to Feed-in Tariffs, many projects have been left in the lurch. However, while we wait for a clear pathway to a sustainable future for the UK, the eight schools in the Solar Schools pilot continue to trail-blaze a model that may be one of few ways community buildings can install solar in the future.

The schools involved are based around the country – a hub of five in Reading, one in Cambridge, one in Norwich and one on the sunny Scilly Isles. They are working flat out to reach their targets and they would love your support! If you’d be interested in donating then please do head to www.solarschools.org.uk. You can also send friends and family a tile as a gift, ready to open on a specified date – a nice way to cut down on your Christmas card recycling this year! Plus, if any of the schools involved are in your area, they would love some hands-on support – they have lots of Solar Schools voucher booklets to sell and events to organise, and they need as many people to know about the project as possible – email hello@solarschools.org.uk  to find how you could get involved.

These schools are trying something new to become cleaner, greener places for children to learn, they would love your help to do it!

Amy Cameron is the Solar Schools co-ordinator at 10:10.

Feed-in-Tariff changes and your project?

We talked about the proposed changes to the government Feed-in-Tariff recently, but how are the changes affecting church based projects on the ground in the diocese? Share you experiences and responses here in the comments.

We are hearing of community solar PV projects that are now in serious financial jeopardy because of the proposed changes to the FiT and the short notice given. Blewbury Energy Initiative is advising, “those leading such projects to keep careful records of their documentation – especially bills and payments, as it is possible they may be able to reclaim expenditure committed before the DECC announcement on 31st October.”

Is your project in such a situation? Or have you shelved plans because of the proposed changes?

Please use the comments section below to share your experiences and how you are responding to the proposed changes, both so we know who is being affected and also to share with others ideas and resources of how to respond.

Also if you haven’t already signed the e-petition started by the CofE’s Shrinking the Footprint campaign, asking DECC to consider exempting not-for-profit group projects from the Feed-In Tariff reductions, please do consider doing so.

Low Carbon Hub launch – 1st Dec 2011

On Thursday 1st December 2011 the newly formed Low Carbon Hub will be launched at Oxford Town Hall.

The Oxfordshire based Low Carbon Hub is a partnership of the Community Action Group network, ClimateXChange and local authorities who will be providing mentoring and other services to more than 100 communities to help them reduce emissions through community action.

The scheme will initially work across Oxford city and Oxfordshire, but if it proves successful, could expand further. Once its website is launched, its online services will be available to all. It will help communities make the most of economies of scale, provide resources and online guides, models and templates as well as offering advisors, training courses and networking events.

Come and find out ore at the launch – full details below. To book a place at the launch fill in the form at: www.surveymonkey.com/s/hub_launch

Your Church and Heat Pumps

The Diocese of Oxford has published an information sheet to introduce how heat pumps could be used to heat your church. It will help you assess the suitability of your church and provides a list of things to consider as you develop a project to install heat pump technology and benefit from the government Renewable Heat Incentive.

Download the document or view it online:

Your church and Woodfuel (Biomass)

The Diocese of Oxford has published an information sheet to introduce how biomass could be used to heat churches.

It aims to help you assess the suitability of your church and provides a list of things to consider as you develop a project to install a biomass boiler and benefit from the government Renewable Heat Incentive.

Download the document or view it online:

HOME – a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Yann Arthus-Bertrand photography is breathtaking and inspirational – his Earth from the Air exhibition has been round the world and always has at its core a goal of inspiring people to act on what they see. HOME is a film that brings his distinctive style of photography to the big screen. Exploring the miracle and mystery of the earth the film looks at the beauty of the earth and all its creatures… and follows the story of humans short presence on the earth, both our creative use and mindless destruction. Just like the photograph exhibition the film weaves history and facts through story with a back drop of amazing photography. The film producers say:

We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth’s climate.

The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being.

The film is 1 hour and 33 minutes long and available in full on YouTube for free. It is royalty-free and can be shown in public with no need for a license. It makes for a great  resource for groups to use and would work well being shown on a big screen in a community centre or church building as part of local projects and initiatives around environmental issues.

For more information visit: HOME Film website and the HOME YouTube Channel

Of Trees and Men

Looking for something shorter but along the same lines? Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s latest short film ‘Of Trees and Men’ was the official film for the launch of the International Year of Forests, 2011. You can view it and download it at www.offorestsandmen.org

Abingdon Hydro

“If I had known what I was taking on, I doubt if I would have started….” People probably think that more often than they say. But the commitment is made, and you don’t intend to back out. For me it’s Abingdon Hydro.

I have tried in small ways to encourage churches down an eco friendly path, but I didn’t feel I was getting far. The usual ‘way in’ is the appeal of the natural world, but my expertise lies in the physical sciences, so I have not been able to organise the kind of activities that might attract a congregation.

However I do know about climate change, so I have been part of Abingdon Carbon Cutters, one of the many Community Action Groups scattered around Oxfordshire. We decided to focus on three areas: education, energy, and food, and I found myself taking responsibility for the energy group. I had not intended to, and I didn’t know where to start. In a town as big as ours, it looked a bit overwhelming.
I don’t remember where the idea of a flagship project came from, or when hydroelectric power from the Thames was first mentioned, but it seemed to fit – it would be a very visible example of renewable energy, in a very public place. As soon as I started talking about it, I found people who were interested.

Then there was a period of about 6 months when helpful events started popping up in front of me, and I was carried along by a feeling of knowing what to do. There were meetings at just the right time, and I met the right people. Then I sensed that it was time to take the plunge, and see if anyone wanted to join me in making it happen, because I knew I could not do it on my own. To my surprise and relief (“oh you of little faith…”) 6 people responded.

So we became 7 directors of a Community Interest Company. There is much to do, and we are quite a mixed bunch, but we seem to get on OK, and it is good to have a variety of talents and points of view. I am prepared to do a large part of the work, because I am the only one who is fully retired, but I also have to make sure I involve them and ask for help as much as possible, and to see that decisions are properly talked through. If you would like to see what we aim to do, it’s at www.abingdonhydro.co.uk.

After a lot of preparatory work, including big tasks like planning permission and an Environment Agency licence, there will be a share issue. We want to raise about a million pounds, but it’s a good investment. As a community project, part of the income goes to the shareholders and part into the wider community. How we work that out will raise interesting questions, but you could say that getting the community relationships right is the key thing, and the rest is just project management.

I believe God has called me to do this. It is mission, out at the pioneering end of the spectrum, but we are all called to go and make good use of the resources God has given. In that sense it is spiritual work, just as much as teaching, caring and the more traditional Christian vocations.

There has been a sense of momentum in the way this project started, but a question remains, that bothers me: should I have persisted within the church? What if they had decided to endorse and encourage it? A good team could have been assembled. It would be clearly identified as a local church project, and probably more widely known than it is now. Assuming it had the same legal status as we are adopting, “for the benefit of the community”, it would give the church a very positive image, and attract people who otherwise would have nothing to do with the church. Church members would have the opportunity to invest, and tell others about it. It would produce a community share that could be reinvested in other projects, with the approval of the shareholders. At the site there will be an information centre, for educational purposes, but what if it had included an explanation of why this was a church initiative, and how our belief in a creator God motivates us to look after his creation, and make good use of its resources? Just suppose….

There are more opportunities out there. The Big Society is not just a slogan – central government really is trying to devolve responsibility downwards. Of course part of the motive is to save money, but it’s no good just sitting back and complaining about it. Government will step back, and legislation is removing barriers to community groups. Did you know that Abingdon Town Council’s motto is “Faith and industry”? Churches can make a difference in the public arena. There will be vulnerable people needing help, and churches will need programmes to look after them, but our environment too is vulnerable and in need of protection. If we don’t, future generations, even our own children, will be amazed at how foolishly we took for granted the creation of which we are part and on which we depend.

The community action group in West Oxford recently organised the planting of 1000 trees in SW Oxford. It was to be done by volunteers, and it gave the organiser sleepless nights. What if nobody turned up? What if 1000 people turned up and most had to be sent away? In the event it was cold and wet, and about 100 people turned up and planted all the trees. They had a good time, and felt they belonged, and were making a difference in their community. Now they form the nucleus of a new group in South Oxford. This is pioneering work being done by a secular group, who want to change the culture of the whole city to a low carbon future. So they know they have to think big and take risks. Surely there is a lesson there for churches?

Richard Riggs is a member of the Oxford Diocese Environment Group and member of Christ Church Abingdon.

For more information on Abingdon Hydro visit www.abingdonhydro.co.uk