Recession, austerity and economic crashes. Greenhouse gases, climate change and global warming.

Turn on the radio or TV and you are bombarded with the two great challenges of our time.  The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness can be overwhelming. Is it possible to move beyond hand-wringing and rhetoric to find practical solutions to these huge issues in a way that involves people, or should we just leave it to global capitalism to find solutions?

The Government appears to have opted for the latter with its recent support for fracking and a giant nuclear project whose budget is spinning out of control. The ‘green revolution’ has ground to a halt, with cuts to financial support for renewable energy and increasing negativity about solar, wind and wave power. US President-elect Trump has not helped matters by claiming that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

A group of Sheffield volunteers think differently and are championing a model of business practice and technology which challenges the direction of this destructive trend. They are Sheffield Renewables, a cooperative that builds partnerships in the city to install solar photovoltaic systems and reduce the city’s carbon footprint. The appeal of solar is convincing. The University of Sheffield’s Project Sunshine claims that capturing just one hour of sunlight falling on the Earth’s surface could provide the whole world with enough power for a whole year.

Sheffield Renewables was set up in 2009 as a community benefit society to help create a cleaner, more sustainable, pleasant and fair city by developing community-owned renewable energy projects. In 2012, the organisation raised £221,000 of investment from community shares. This money was used to fund the building of three 50kW solar photovoltaic schemes on community buildings in Sheffield, which  cumulatively in their first year of operation generated over 120,000kWh of electricity and over £23,000 of income.

The group are seeking to develop two new projects and further establish community energy in Sheffield with their latest community share scheme, which runs until 31 December and through which they hope to raise £70,000. The schemes will operate over a 20-year period, with interest being paid and members’ capital returned to them. The schemes model an important local tool in tackling climate change, but the benefit is also multiplied by utilising the principle of ‘sticky money’, money that is invested and generated locally and re-cycled through the economy, rather than being whisked out of the area to multinational corporations.

This is just one method of popular and participatory control over money in the local economy and directing it towards socially useful outcomes. In addition to the renewable energy produced and the returns to local community shareholders, all members contributing to the organisation get a say over the spending of the Community Benefit Fund, which it is hoped will use 1.5% of revenues from solar installations to address local issues, like fuel poverty, insulation or new green initiatives.

Their first new project is with Lembas, a workers co-operative just off Chesterfield Road specialising in organic and wholefoods, which would be ready to be installed before Christmas.

Shares in Sheffield Renewables can be bought from as little as £100 and payments can be made in accessible installments, with an aim to pay a return of 3% interest to members after the schemes have been operating for three years.

In these dark days, when governments duck the fight against climate change and the economic principles of greed and competition seem unassailable, isn’t it time people in Sheffield took control of their money and led a local effort to save the planet?

sheffieldrenewables.org.uk

Community Share Issue 2016 (until 31 Dec)

Image: Lucas Braun, Wikimedia Commons

Max Munday & Dave Berry