A COMMUNITY share offer needs to raise £280,000 to reclaim a solar panel scheme at a secondary school.

The solar panels were installed at Matthew Arnold School, Cumnor Hill, in 2010 by local group West Oxford Community Renewables (WOCoRE) using its own funds and a grant from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Because the grant funding outweighed the group’s contribution, under EU law the group could not claim income from energy produced – which is crucial to its plan to generate income to reinvest in environmental projects.

Oxfordshire County Council stepped in and bought the panels from WOCoRE for £246,500, which was donated to Low Carbon West Oxford and Low Carbon Hub.

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The council is now offering WOCoRe the chance to buy back the solar panels and, if enough investors take up the share offer, the group would be able to earn ‘feed-in-tariff ’ money from the electricity generated that is fed into the national grid.

Investors would get a five per cent rate of return and the project could raise up to £250,000 to support future environmental projects in the area.

The school, which currently makes use of the electricity generated by the panels, would buy it at a discounted price and also get a contribution towards repairing a school roof.

Assistant headteacher Andrew Roberts said: “The generation of clean energy on our rooftops is living proof to our pupils that we can take action on climate change.

“Bringing the array [of panels] back into community ownership will help the school continue to save on our electricity bills while supporting further carbon reduction projects and strengthening our ties with the wider community.”

Saskya Huggins, of WOCoRE, said: “We’ve already had £10,000 pledged in investment in the last 24 hours – but we’ve still got a long, long way to go to reach our target.”

“We love having the solar panels on the school as they reflect the sky, camouflaging the building.

“It’s great to know they are already supplying clean green electricity to the school, but I can’t wait until they are back in community ownership and providing income to support local environmental projects.

She added: “The array was originally installed with the intention of it being in community ownership, so that the community would benefit over the long term from the income generated by receipt of the Feed-in Tariff and the sale of electricity.

“We now have the opportunity to make this happen.”

Matthew Arnold becomes an academy school on June 1 and the WOCoRE group said the purchase was urgent to tie in with the transfer of other assets from the county council to the school.

The group also set up the share offer for the Osney Hydro Lock project, which is expected to start generating electricity within weeks.