New collaboration brings seven UK solar farms into community ownership

The farms are expected to generate £20m to support local projects in England and Wales, and will grow community solar capacity in England and Wales by a fifth

A group of five community energy co-ops in Shropshire, Kent, Devon, Isle of Wight and Swansea are launching share offers to fund the transfer of seven operational solar farms into community ownership as part of a collaboration called Community Energy Together (CET).

Four community benefit societies (CBS) opened their share offers this week – Yealm Community Energy (YCE), Kent Community Energy (KCE), Shropshire & Telford Community Energy (STCE) and Wight Community Energy (WCE). The fifth group, Gower Power, plans to launch its share offer once it has converted to a CBS.   

The solar farms have a collective total capacity of 36MWp, which is enough to power around 12,750 homes and save around 317,000 tonnes of CO2 over their lifetimes.

Transferring ownership of the solar farms is expected to increase the capacity of community owned solar in England and Wales by around one fifth, generating approximately £20m to support local projects. 

CET will see the CBSs acquiring the farm portfolio from Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE), a partnership between Big Society Capital and community business support organisation Power to Change

This cross-collateralised finance model aims to reduce the cost of borrowing and spread risk, thereby increasing the size of the community benefit pot. 

Will Walker, climate action manager at Power to Change, said: “Our evidence shows that when assets and services are owned by the people they serve, they offer better value for the public, keep resources and jobs local, create community wealth and build economically resilient places. Community businesses are part of the solution to making better places to live and work, whilst accelerating responses to the climate emergency and zero carbon transition.   

“Power to Change invested in CORE and provided support to the community benefit societies to ensure they are well equipped to develop these solar farms into successful zero carbon assets that will deliver for local people and nature for many years to come.”

The five community energy groups have already delivered a number of local environmental projects, such as STCE’s new energy-efficient lighting and rainwater harvesting system for a community building in Telford, and YCE’s support to establish a community-owned electric ferry on the Yealm Estuary. The income generated from the new solar farms will increase the CBSs’ capacity for future projects. 

Shareholders who invest in the offers launched this week will become members of the CBSs they invest in on a one vote per member basis. 

Robert Saunders, chair of STCE, said: “Community owned energy gives individuals the vital opportunity to play a part in the clean energy transition beyond just being a consumer. STCE is in great company with four like-minded Community Benefit Societies. Whilst owning our individual solar farms, we are committed to working together and supporting each other so that we can benefit from each other’s expertise, experience and share knowledge and lessons along the way.”

Peter Brown, chair of YCE, described being part of CET as “like being part of a larger, supportive family, working together to get the best out of all our solar farms and maximising the surpluses we can all devote to the local green economy.” 

Emma Bridge, chief executive of Community Energy England – which has just added another 70 community energy businesses to its national map – said the share offers mark “a significant milestone for community energy”, and that “local ownership of our green energy infrastructure is vital for engaging people with the changes we must make to get to net zero.”

The share offers are being hosted on positive investment platform Ethex, with a target annual return of 6%.

The share offers open now will close on 27 October, or earlier if they are fully subscribed.