David Cameron throws support behind community solar project

David Cameron has expressed support for a community solar energy project in his Oxfordshire constituency, acknowledging the level of public support for the technology.

Southill Community Energy (SCE) launched a share offer on 17 February seeking to raise at least £2 million to fund the construction of a 4.5MW community solar farm on the Cornbury Park estate, just outside Charlbury.

The community group raised around £12,000 on its opening night and according to SCE, the project has already attracted close to £500,000.The share offer, which can be accessed through investment platform Ethex, closes on 8 April, giving it just over two weeks to raise the remaining cash. 

The likelihood of this has no doubt been increased by comments made by the prime minister this week, who said in a statement: “The Southill Solar project is a great example of people’s enthusiasm for this technology. As costs come down even further, I look forward to solar competing against other technologies and continuing to be an important part of the UK energy mix.”

The site was granted planning consent in July 2015 and was pre-accredited to the higher rate of feed-in tariff no longer available to new developments. SCE says this makes it one of the last community solar schemes to benefit from the higher rate following cuts to government subsidy earlier this year.

However, the site must be completed by 31 August 2016 to qualify, imposing a tight deadline on both fundraising and construction.

Tim Crisp, director of Southill Community Energy, said: “We’re delighted the prime minister recognises how popular community solar farms are with the public, both here in Oxfordshire and in the rest of the country.

“This sends a strong signal to potential investors that community solar is worth supporting and has a long-term future in the UK – and will serve as a useful reminder to the Prime Minister of what communities can achieve right here on his doorstep!”

Despite the tight deadline in which the project must raise the remaining cash needed to get construction underway, SCE is confident that it will have all the funds required.

Speaking to Solar Power Portal this morning, Juliette Barrell of SCE said: “People tend to sit on the fence and wait until the last minute so there’s a bit of communication that we need to do in order to be very clear that 8 April is where we’re heading for in terms of closing the share offer.

“We’re fairly confident but we’ve also got some alternative financing in place in order to support that.”

The local society has already carried out several events in Oxfordshire to address the financial queries regarding the scheme, with an event held on Friday leading to a spike in investment over the weekend.

SCE is planning a series of ‘meet the directors’ events in the coming weeks to drum up further support before the closure of the share offer.