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Bee Sustainable

Bee Sustainable (A Sustainable Future for Bury) is a local co-operative of volunteers working to develop what they claim is the first 100% community owned hydro energy project in Bury.

Bee Sustainable was established by a group of ‘like minded individuals’ in 2012 to generate local renewable projects and to fund local low carbon projects. The project stemmed from the Transition Bury initiative and takes inspiration from various examples of community owned energy projects.

Through a community owned hydro project its aspirations are:

• to generate clean energy through local, democratic control
• for benefits to be kept within the community, including through creating funds for low carbon projects
• to make a difference

The main activity of Bee Sustainable is to bring together sustainable hydro-power with community ownership. This means there are not only technical challenges to be overcome, but also significant social and political challenges. In addition to identifying a suitable location on the River Irwell in Bury for siting the hydro project there have also been intertwined the social, technical and political processes of establishing the project.

Specifically the development of a cooperative, its structures, financing and terms of reference is a central part not only of the activities of getting the technical part of the project to work but also of its aims to galvanise local people and communities.

By the end of 2012, the group had undertaken discussions with the local council about the hydro scheme. They had also broadened their activities to undertake surveys on preferred locations for a wind turbine in the south of the Borough and had been applying for grants to fund further surveys.


An Alternative?


Bee Sustainable is a formal, incorporated cooperative with a legal structure. Its members are its decision makers on the basis of 1 member = 1 vote. Any profits that are generated by Bee Sustainable will be used for low carbon projects and will be decided by members, though a Community Fund.

Though the cooperative is focused on the town of Bury its scale of operation is likely to vary as the list of projects that the cooperative is involved with expands. So, for example, the proposed hydro project is situated on a weir on the River Irwell, the benefits intended for the local community operate at the level of Bury and projects will take place at sites within Bury, yet it is also feasible for investors to be involved from outside of Bury.

Funding is through the cooperative where members buy between £100 and £20,000 of community shares. These are prioritized for the local community, though not necessarily exclusive to the local community. This capital is used to run the project.

The project is in its early stages. There are large challenges to generate and sustain interest and investment of time, enthusiasm and expertise. There are challenges in developing the political will for a project of this kind. There are also the technical challenges of moving from identifying a site and method of generating electricity to achieving its implementation and constructing a new ‘system’ of provision.

Bee Sustainable provides one small example of an attempt to re-make the material fabric of Greater Manchester. It is an experiment that has the potential to shed light on a number of wider issues. These include:

1. The ways in which a community, renewable source of energy generation relates to the existing provision of energy generally for, in this case, Bury.

2. The lessons to be learned from a nascent form of cooperative organisation in setting up a community renewables project.

3. The types of low carbon projects that are valued by the cooperative membership and funded through the Community Fund.



This article has been written using publically available sources.

This article is published here as part of the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform’s aspiration to raise the visibility of different community innovations, grassroots projects and activities in the city-region.

It also draws on SURF's involvement in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant, 'Retrofit 2050' and contributes to understanding of the Remaking of the Material Fabric of the City.

Find out here about the background, purpose and content of ‘The Alternative?’ series of articles on Platform.

Main image adapted from an original photograph courtesy of Flickr user Robert Wade, published under a Creative Commons licence