Twelve months on since operations began at Westmill Solar Farm Cooperative, near Swindon, Government Minister for Culture, Communication and Creative Industries Ed Vaizy officially launched a share offer to invest in the development. Hundreds of people from across the UK attended the launch as part of an energy and sustainability fair held at the site of the solar farm at Watchfield, just outside Swindon. The aim of the farm was always to turn it into a cooperative similar to the Westmill Wind Farm Cooperative which has five wind turbines on the same site.
Vaizy has pledged to be among the first to invest in Westmill. The solar share offer is now open until of July, with a minimum investment is £250, up to £20,000. It is hoped that around £4 million equity will be raised. A bond will also be secured to raise the balance to repay the £15m cost of construction.
“I am sure I will be one of the first investors,” said Vaizey. “To secure my children’s future for their sakes, both financially and ethically. This site is a physical manifestation of what we have which can change the planet for the better.”
Investors are expected to get an annual average return on investment of 11 per cent a year for the 24-year period. Westmill Solar Cooperative’s directors state that the first eight years, returns should average nine per cent a year, rising to 22 per cent annually in the second eight-year period, then up to 43 per cent a year in the final period. The lower rates take into account the original capital costs as well as those of launching the share offer itself. Investors will also receive their capital back in full over the life of the 24-year project. Details are available for download on at www.westmillsolar.coop
Part of the solar farm’s income will come from the government’s feed-in tariff which is index-linked and therefore rises in line with inflation. The site was generating clean energy before August 1 last year and therefore benefits from the highest possible rate of tariff.
The solar farm was constructed by seed investor Blue Energy last year and houses more than 21,000 polycrystalline solar panels producing 4.8GWh per year - enough to meet the average annual electricity requirement of 1,400 homes.
Although the site was constructed by seed investor Blue Energy, the aim was always to turn it into a cooperative similar to the Westmill Wind Farm Cooperative which has five wind turbines on the same site.
Director Adam Twine has said he hopes both the solar and wind farm projects will inspire other communities to take the lead in clean energy generation.