You can be part owner of a large solar power plant

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Posted Jul 8 2012 by Philip Wolfe of Westmill Solar Co-op

Westmill solar park is located near to Watchfield, on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border, just off the A420. The site is operating successfully and consists of 30 acres of over 20,000 solar panels. We now want to raise enough funding to buy the solar park back from the initial investors to create the UK’s first and world’s largest cooperatively-run, community-owned solar farm.

Westmill Solar Co-operative has been formed to enable members of the public to acquire a share of one of the UK’s few solar parks to benefit from the original level of Feed-in Tariffs (now 32.2p/kWh). We are now undertaking a public share offer to provide the funds to exercise our option to buy the 5MW park, which was built last July and is performing ahead of expectation.

The share offer document is available for download from our website, and applications can be made using the form in the document, or online. The document shows an illustrative rate of return over the project’s 24-year life of 11%.

We hope you don’t mind us bringing this to your attention. If you missed out on the chance to invest in a solar system before the tariffs went down, here is another opportunity. If you did manage to get your own system installed, this could be ‘another bite of the cherry’!

On Saturday 23rd June local MP and government minister Ed Vaizey launched the share offer, praising the community efforts to turn this dream into a reality and offering his support and commitment to personally investing in the project. The share offer is open for applications until the end of July 2012.

A bit of background – Adam Twine, who farms Westmill farm, decided in 2010 to explore the idea of offering community ownership of a large scale solar power plant on his farm in association with a commercial solar developer.  This led to the creation of the Co-operative with the intention that the wider community would be given the opportunity to own a share of the solar power plant through owning shares in the Co-operative, which in turn would own the Westmill Solar Park.

The unexpected FiT fast-track review in spring 2011 meant that there was insufficient time for the co-operative to run a share offer, design and install the Plant by 31st July 2011. Therefore the plant was installed by a commercial developer, who has granted an option for the co-operative to buy it back.

The solar park consists of 20,260 polycrystalline PV panels. The whole site occupies around 30 acres and will generate 4.8 GWhr/ year – approximately the equivalent to a year’s electricity consumption of 1,400 homes in Oxfordshire and enough to prevent 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Community energy schemes are widespread in Europe, and in Germany 25% of all renewable energy is owned by community projects. A similar proportion is community owned in Denmark, and both countries have a larger share of renewable energy generation than in the UK. For example, in Denmark almost each town or village has its own community owned renewable energy project, including an 82 MW offshore wind farm that is cooperatively owned.

In this country, pioneer projects such as Westmill wind farm (located next to the solar park) have shown that the model is successful here too and creates numerous benefits for investors and communities. In the UK, most such schemes have mostly been wind farms. Westmill solar aims to take this model into new technologies by creating the country’s first community-owned solar farm.