A GWENT community is helping to raise £390,000 to install solar panels on hundreds of houses.

A community share issue has been launched so that the first phase of the solar power scheme can start in Newport.

The Co-operative Enterprise Hub, which supports community-owned projects, is helping the solar power initiative, the latest example of the growing popularity of co-operative enterprises across the UK.

There has been a 10% increase over the past two years in the number of enterprises, up from 5,450 in 2010 to almost 6,000, with a combined membership of 13.5 million.

James Alexander, chairman of Gen Community Ltd, which is running the solar scheme, said: "We believe we can improve the lives of low-income communities through the installation of renewable energy technologies, projects which alleviate fuel poverty, reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and dependence on fossil fuels and, at the same time, offer a fair return for investors.’’ The Co-operative Group has committed a further £4 million up to 2015 to develop its Enterprise Hub service, which offers free training and advice.

Michael Fairclough, the Co-operative's head of community and co-operative investment, said: "There is significant potential for community-owned renewable energy to deliver local economic and social benefits in addition to helping the UK to meet its energy needs and climate change goals.

"Ambitious community-led projects enable people to control, generate and benefit from their own renewable energy and can contribute to a step-change in people's thinking about energy - a catalyst for a clean energy revolution across the UK.’’ Shares in the solar enterprise start at £500, with each member having an equal say in the running of the organisation.