NICE Lighting the Way Toward Renewable Energy for VCSE Sector
Northern Ireland Community Energy (NICE) – a community energy group that is collectively owned by its members – has surpassed its initial capital investment target of £150,000. The co-operative structure allows the group to offer a more equitable model that helps the environment and the local community, according to NICE.
The target was established to allow NICE to install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on approximately 9 community buildings across Northern Ireland, which in turn will allow those organisations to reduce their energy costs.
NICE also plans to use the projected surplus to build a community fund that will address local fuel poverty and other issues decided by NICE members.
The co-operative energy model is common in parts of mainland Europe and in the rest of the UK there are several successful ones, however NICE is currently the only energy cooperative operating in Northern Ireland.
The group is still accepting new investments in their share offer.
Even as the campaign continues, work has already begun to install the PV panel on the participating community centres. “Our capital investment has already been put to work,” said Karen Arbuckle, NICE director. “Over half of our planned free solar PV arrays have been installed and are generating electricity for our third sector organisations".
So far 5 groups have joined – Mediation NI, in Belfast, the Chinese Welfare Association, Belfast; Ashton Centre, North Belfast; the Rath Mor Centre in Derry/Londonderry, and the Whitehead Community Association, with a 6th installation scheduled for the beginning of July for the YMCA Derry/Londonderry.
Karen said: “We are now concentrating and working with a number of other organisations in getting to final agreement for the last number of free installations that we can finance in this NICE first phase project".
The electricity generated by the project can have a direct impact on the bottom line. Currently, the NICE record for energy generation has been 111kWh in one day, which equates to the average daily electricity usage of 9 homes, said NICE director Andrew McMurray.
“On the night Whitehead Community Association’s 15kW array (our largest installation to date) was commissioned NICE’s technical team reported a remote meter reading of 10.9 kWh and early next morning at 7am when the sun was only rising the reading was 14.3, 3.4 units,” Andrew said. “A kettle uses 0,114kWh (units), therefore by 7am the generation from our Whitehead installation was approximately enough for 30 kettle boils!”.
These groups can also avail of an additional benefit. Once each installation goes live on the electricity grid – NICE will register the group for Renewable Obligation Certificates, which are part of the support scheme for renewable electricity projects in the UK and can be traded in different ways.
On Wednesdy 17 June NICE will hold an informal event at the Chinese Welfare Association on the Stranmillis Embankment in Belfast. The event is open to anyone who wishes to know more about NICE.
“NICE is delighted with the response we have received from the local community,” said Arbuckle. “As Northern Ireland's first solar community energy co-operative we felt it was important to share and celebrate our achievement to date with our local community and to also showcase one of our free installations”.