North Somerset church among UK’s oldest to save with solar energy

A North Somerset church built nearly 900 years ago has become one of the oldest churches in the country to save on its energy bills with solar panels.

Installing the solar photovoltaic (PV) system has brought St Bridget’s Church at Chelvey from the 12th century into the 21st. The 15 solar panels have been carefully designed to blend in as much as possible with the ancient roof.

It was a particularly significant project for installers Solarsense because the Grade 1 listed building is their local church, being less than half a mile from their base at Brockley Lane, Backwell.

Experts from the company, the South West’s leading renewable energy specialists, worked closely with the church architect to ensure the panels were as discreet as possible, and chose ones with a dark, minimal reflective finish to match the existing roof slates. St Bridget’s roof has a double ridge which meant the panels could be fitted on the less visible roof slope and be more hidden from view.

The church is the oldest in the Diocese of Bath and Wells to benefit from solar energy, while across England only two other parish churches with PV panels are older than St Bridget’s – Withington near Cheltenham and Wing in Oxfordshire.

St Bridget’s age and its status as a Grade 1 listed building meant that Chelvey parochial church council first had to apply to the diocesan advisory committee on church buildings for a ‘faculty’, special permission for the installation. Once this was granted they then had to obtain planning consent from North Somerset Council and English Heritage.

The 3.6kWp solar PV system will generate more than 2,500kWh each year, and earn an income via the Feed-in Tariff scheme that will reduce the church’s running costs for many years to come. St Bridget’s will also save almost 1,400kg of carbon dioxide emissions each year by using less fossil fuel.

Funding the solar generator was the latest challenge taken up by St Bridget’s congregation of around just 20 people. They have also raised money to upgrade the heating system, repair the nave windows and badly leaking tower and buy a new organ. Now they are now planning to bring mains water on site and build a new toilet.

Churchwarden Tony Stirratt said: “The results from our solar panels are even better than we expected. We have already had people from outside the diocese asking about them and we hope that the success of our solar PV will encourage more churches to install their own.”

Steve Barrett of Solarsense said: “St Bridget’s is our local church as well as a historic building so we are delighted to have been able to install carefully tailored solar PV that not only saves the congregation money but also blends in with the church’s historic fabric.”

The installation has been welcomed by the Church of England’s national campaign to reduce its carbon footprint. Ruth Wilkinson who leads the Shrink the Footprint project said: “Our national target is to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 and sensitively carried out installations such as that at Chelvey will help us achieve that goal."


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