A Leicestershire college looks to cut energy bills by £45,000 a year by offering shares in a £1million green energy project.

A community is joining forces to buy shares in a £1million green energy co-operative which will cut bills at the local college and raise money for good causes.

The unique project at John Cleveland College, Hinkley, Leicestershire, will cut carbon emissions by 400 tonnes a year, reduce energy bills by £45,000 a year and act as a blueprint for similar projects across the UK.

It will also create a Local Community Fund to support initiatives to benefit the school and local community, which it is estimated will generate £227,876 over the project's 20-year lifespan.

The Green Fox Community Energy Co-operative is already recruiting investors - ranging from the local GPs to manual workers and pupils' parents and grandparents - to buy community shares with a projected return on investment of up to 13%.

Investments ranging from £250 to a maximum £20,000 will raise the £986,473 needed to purchase and install biomass boilers at the college, which caters for 1,700 students aged 14-19.

In a matter of weeks more than 60 people have either taken shares or expressed interest. So far, that amounts to £150,000 in firm donations and pledges.

This innovative renewable energy project, which is collaboration between three not-for-profit organisations Green Fox Community Energy Co-operative, Transition Leicester and Sharenergy, aims to use sustainably harvested wood from local woodlands to fuel wood-chip boilers that will heat the college.

The biomass boilers will be provided by Leicestershire-based Rural Energy, a leading UK biomass technology expert and a Myriad CEG company.

Paul Clark, MD of Rural Energy, one of the UK's leading renewable energy companies, said: "This is a great example of how communities can come together to learn about the potential of biomass and benefit from the commercial benefits it can deliver as a robust, reliable and safe renewable energy source."

Richard Halsey, a founding member and Director of Green Fox Community Energy Co-operative, said: "To establish this project we have formed a new co-operative, the John Cleveland College Community Woodheat Co-operative and are launching a share offer to raise the capital required to install the boilers.

"By using this model, we hope to attract local people to invest and benefit from the project. A co-operative is run on a one share, one vote system, every investor gets an equal say in how it is run."

The co-operative said that, with a projected return of 9% to nearly 13%, purchasing community shares provides a unique ethical investment opportunity.

Richard added: "Investors in the Co-operative become its members and they will be contributing to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the College by an estimated 400 tonnes annually. Furthermore the project will seek to source the woodchip locally from The National Forest which will in turn sustain local jobs".

Scott Morris, Head of Estates at John Cleveland College said: "Currently the College uses oil and the heating bills are in excess of £150,000 a year. By switching to wood-chip, we will be saving an estimated £45,000 per year – which is significant to any school.

"However it's not all about the money, as the College has a Specialist Science status and renewable technologies like these fit really well into our curriculum and can be an educational asset for the school, for years to come."

Green Fox Community Energy Co-operative is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2012 by local supporters of community energy and Transition Leicester, who were interested in enabling their local community to reduce its carbon footprint and increase deployment of community owned renewable energy.

Transition Leicester is a growing network of local people that aims to inspire action to make Leicestershire a thriving, low-carbon and resilient environment for people to live in. Its main focus is on developing practical local solutions to some of the big challenges that our community is facing today, such as climate change, the economic crisis and dwindling supplies of fossil fuel energy.

Sharenergy helps community groups to establish community owned renewable energy co-operatives including the UK's first community woodfuel co-operative, Woolhope Woodheat.

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