FIRMS across Bicester could save up to a quarter on their energy bills as part of a new solar energy scheme.

A list of the top 10 biggest business roofs has been drawn up for the £2.5m project involving 10,000 solar panels. So far six firms have expressed an interest with one at the final stage of negotiations.

Run by not-for-profit organisation The Low Carbon Hub, in partnership with Cherwell District Council, it says the initiative will benefit both business and residents.

Businesses get solar panels for free and buy back cheaper electricity, saving up to 25 per cent on their bill.

Cash to fund the scheme is being raised by selling shares to the community. Investors get a dividend of up to 8.5 per cent, and then surplus cash is ploughed into community low carbon projects.

Low Carbon Hub operations director Adriano Figueiredo said: “We want to generate as much renewable energy as possible in the whole of Oxfordshire.

“There’s not a cost to businesses itself, the businesses make roofs available for solar panels, the Low Carbon Hub does all the development work and raise the money to pay for the installation through investors and shareholders.

“We want to reinvest what would be the profit into other measures that reduce carbon emissions.”

The roofs need to be large enough but don’t necessarily need to be south facing. Before any work is done a structural survey will be carried out.

According to a Cherwell report, firms which have already expressed an interest include Wyevale Garden Centre, Polestar, Fresh Direct and Baker & Taylor.

The electricity generated would be the equivalent of powering about 500 homes, and each roof would reduce its CO2 emissions by 100 tonnes a year.

When businesses are not operating, such as weekends, electricity would be sold to the National Grid.

Bicester project manager Als Parker said: “We are hoping that in Bicester, once we have started more businesses will see this is a great idea and join in.

“We are hoping we can get this to take off in Oxfordshire.”

Barry Wood, Cherwell’s leader, said: “I don’t think we’ve got anything to lose from this scheme and a lot to gain. It’s a great idea.”

s The Low Carbon Hub have been involved in similar schemes at the Oxford Bus Company’s base in Cowley, and schools across the county.