A 5 megawatt (MW) solar PV farm in the UK has become the first cooperatively owned project in the country – and the largest community solar farm in the world.
The 30-acre solar park serves 1500 households and next door are wind turbines also owned by a community cooperative.
In one of the most successful share offerings of its kind, Westmill Solar Cooperative purchased Westmill Solar Park. The offering, over-subscribed by 50%, sold out in six weeks to 1650 investors.
It raised almost $9.6 million, supplemented by a loan from Investec Bank. The cooperative eventually intends to transfer that loan to a pension fund bond.
“It’s been a real team effort to have pulled this off in the face of shifting government policy and tight timescales,” says Adam Twine, founder and director of the cooperative. “Westmill represents the best of what low carbon investment and renewable energy can offer and hopefully will inspire others to realize that when we get together we can make change happen and can engage positively with the threat of climate change.”
More than half of Westmill members live within 40 kilometers of the project.
Planning for the community solar project began in summer 2010, and was constructed with financing from renewable energy company Blue Energy. It was connected to the grid in 2011, and the cooperative assumed ownership during an offering in June and July 2012.
The farm benefits from UK feed-in tariffs introduced in 2011, which are guaranteed for the next 24 years.
“Solar power will become the world’s greatest energy source in our lifetime; heralding a new era of sustainable and ‘democratic’ energy supply,” says Philip Wolfe, chairman of the cooperative. “As the success of Westmill shows, solar energy enables ordinary people to produce clean power, not only on their rooftops, but at utility scale.”
Community solar projects are capturing interest in the US as well. Even though a state-wide effort in California to support the model was squelched in early September, it is likely that the issue will be re-introduced next year and examples of community solar financing models can be found in New Mexico and Massachusetts.