West Oxford Community Renewables (WOCoRe) was established by a group of local residents to build and manage community-owned renewable energy schemes in West Oxford, with a view to contributing towards a reduction in West Oxford’s carbon footprint.
Confluence and community energy in Oxfordshire
There is a tide in the affairs of men.Brutus, Julius Caesar, Act IV, scene 3, lines 218-224
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Such a tide was building for community energy through the decade 2000-2010. It came to the flood in 2010 when the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) was introduced. During the decade since, the FiT has helped 424 community energy businesses to start up. These own 319MW solar, wind and hydro projects, and make over £3m community benefit profit per year. Parallel to this community action has been taking place to reduce energy and carbon footprints through reducing individual and household energy use, reducing waste, reducing plastic use, recycling, planting trees and developing wildlife habitats.
So how did it happen?
Osney Sustainable Island Group (OSIG) was started in 2001 after a neighbourhood meeting was called at the pub. A community survey of Osney Island residents in 2002 showed that most people understood the threat of climate change, and wanted to develop renewable energy on the island, in particular a hydro project at Osney Weir. Extensive technical and architectural studies were done over the next few years by local experts and resulted in the Environment Agency provisionally agreeing to lease the land and buy the energy.
But by the middle of the decade, OSIG was ‘bound in shallows’ because no-one would fund the full feasibility study needed to move to the next stage.
Then in 2007, the flood waters (literally) rose again. The Summer Flood happened, the local community decided enough was enough and Low Carbon West Oxford (LCWO) was formed, inspired by low carbon communities such as that already developed in Wolvercote. This time, the starting venues were a combination of open meetings for West Oxford residents and planning sessions around local kitchen tables.
The new LCWO did a fantastic job of bringing together long-standing initiatives, and over the following years catalysed and enabled a burst of community activity happenings in West Oxford, such as: carbon footprinting and energy-saving programmes for local households; waste reduction activities such as a store of reusable organic cotton shopping-bags in West Oxford shops, Bring and Takes and clothes swaps; tree-planting and development of wildlife areas; and food projects, among others.
The OSIG team brought their energy, architectural and sustainable policy skills, ideas and experience to the service of the community through the LCWO Renewables Group (later to develop into West Oxford Community Renewables, WOCoRe), and worked alongside LCWO members to make a bid to the NESTA Big Green Challenge competition.
LCWO won £120,000 over the two-stage Big Green Challenge competition to develop and demonstrate the ‘double carbon-cut’ model. This is where community-owned renewable energy projects are designed to generate financial support for community benefit, as well as paying back shareholders; this funding is then used to support further carbon-cutting projects such as LCWO’s ‘Low Carbon Living Programme’.
WOCoRe was set up in 2009 as an Industrial and Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community (now known as a Registered Society) to develop and own the first solar rooftop at The King’s Centre on Osney Mead. WOCoRe went on to win funding for four further projects, including 100kW at Matthew Arnold School and 52kW at the Aldi supermarket on Botley Road. The roofs on which the solar PVs are installed are leased for a peppercorn rent and the electricity is sold to the roof owners and the excess exported to the national grid.
WOCoRe spun out Osney Lock Hydro (OLH) in 2012. Four incredibly hard years’ work between 2011 and 2015 finally saw the hydro generate its first renewable energy in May 2015. It now produces on average twice the amount of power generated by the old Osney Power Station in its first year of operation in 1892. In the end, it took 15 years of expertise, ingenuity and effort to make the journey from the first idea to the first power generated.
The community benefit profit generated by WOCoRe and OLH is donated to LCWO to fund its community carbon-cutting projects and to pay the salary of a project officer.
The introduction of the Feed-in Tariff in 2010 meant that the West Oxford double carbon-cut model was developed just in time to help others experience a new flood of fortune. The model was shared with many other community groups across the UK; there are now 424 community energy businesses reported in the Community Energy England ‘State of the Sector’ report.
It was also just in time for Oxford City Council to help the LCWO and WOCoRe team win funding to develop new community-led organisations across Oxford. One of these was Low Carbon Oxford North. Another was the Low Carbon Hub, which now owns 47 solar rooftops and a 400kW hydro, and is in the process of building a 19MW solar ground-mount project. The profits from these projects support the activities of 35 community groups across Oxfordshire. They also provide match funding for grant-supported innovation projects – particularly Project LEO, one of three national smart energy demonstrators funded by the UK Government through UK Research and Innovation. Project LEO puts community energy at the heart of the transition to a zero-carbon energy system by working with households and businesses to optimise local renewable electricity use and production.
It has been a remarkable journey so far. We are now afloat on the full sea and must all take the currents that offer themselves to us so that we don’t lose our venture of a just transition to a zero-carbon energy system in the UK.
 Community Energy England (2021) State of the Sector report.
 As well as OSIG, this included West Oxford Waste-Watchers (WOWW), a Community Action Group (CAG) established in 2003. The CAG network has been funded by the County Council since 2001 and now has almost 100 active groups across Oxfordshire.
Meet the team
We are run by a volunteer Board of Directors. Members elect the Board at an Annual General Meeting on a three-year rotation to manage the affairs of the Society.