Westmill solar farm, located just outside Swindon, is set to become the UK’s first community-owned solar park. The 5MW site has been operating since July last year and is home to more than 20,000 solar modules, producing 4.4GWh of electricity per year.
The community scheme is designed to raise £4million equity with potential investors able to buy-in to the project with a minimum investment of £250 and a maximum of £20,000. Westmill Solar has also partnered with Investec to secure a bond for the debt required to complete the purchase of the £15 million project from seed investor Blue Energy.
The project hopes to emulate successful community ownership models employed across Europe. In Denmark, nearly a quarter of all renewable energy power is community owned. However, the wider aim of the project is to allow any individual or organisation direct access to engage with renewable energy generation at a local level.
The project is led by Adam Twine, an organic farmer and green entrepreneur, who has embraced environmentally-friendly farming techniques and actively engaged in renewable energy generation. Westmill Solar Park will share its site with the already established Westmill Wind Farm, a community-owned site which raised £4.3 million in 2007 and has more than 2,000 members.
Adam Twine, Director of Westmill Solar, said: “We are very pleased that at last we can make community ownership of Westmill solar farm a possibility. This will probably be the only opportunity to invest in a solar project of this scale. We expect to be oversubscribed as it’s not very often you have a chance to do something where you can make money and have a directly positive impact on climate change.”
Philip Wolfe, who chairs Westmill Solar Cooperative’s board and who is known as a pioneer in renewable energy, believes the project has huge potential.
“This, in my opinion, is a unique opportunity offering a long-term, index-linked return to investors. I believe, on successful completion, Westmill will become the largest community-owned solar power station in the world.”
Wolfe will be one of the speakers at the launch alongside Mr Vaizey. He will be joined by Juliet Davenport, founder and CEO of Good Energy and Dr Mike Wise, Mayor of Faringdon.
Juliet Davenport said: “At Good Energy we’ve always believed communities deserve to share the benefits of having renewable projects in their midst – and Westmill Solar Coop is a great example of how this can be put into practice.
“Solar is a natural partner for other forms of renewable generation, like wind, and will only become more and more important. It’s time to invest today for the energy market of tomorrow.”
As Westmill Solar Park was registered before August 1 last year, investors are set to benefit from the installation receiving the highest level of FiT payment available. Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications & the Creative Industries, will be launching the Westmill Solar share offer on June 23.
Those interested in the cooperative can register their interest here.