I have been an avid watcher of the community energy sector and personally did a lot of the preparatory work into a community wind turbine, which unfortunately never came to fruition, a few years back. This did, however, put me in good stead to analyse other projects.
This year has seen a subtle change in the scale of projects retail investors, (you and I) can personally invest in, and their impact. There are many different reasons to invest, but i suspect most investors just want a half decent return with an ethical feel to it. There are social impact funds, manifesto’s, government initiatives and secondary platforms offering advice and insight on this engaging sector, but only a few primary practitioners involved at a meaningful level.
Europe has shown the way with community ownership of low carbon technologies - surely we are just playing catch up - in our own inevitable way. Up to now, the community energy model in the UK, has been geographically tied to where you live. If the community you lived in decided, through goodwill and hard honest work, to have solar panels, a heat pump or a wind turbine, then you were asked to join and contribute for a ‘social return.’ But what happens if you didn’t live in that community, or the area you lived in was poor for PV, wind or heat pumps?
When Westmill Solar looked to retail investors to raise £4 million pounds to purchase a one year old solar farm on their land, they received £6 million in applications. Interestingly, only 15% lived within 7km of the solar farm. Other investors came from the UK low carbon community. Drumlin, in Northern Ireland, are just closing an offer on financing 5 large wind turbines in Northern Ireland, but the offer is open to all. That’s fine by me - i’m paying for these turbines through my increased utility bill, so i might as well get a 20 year return somewhere around the 7% to 8% level. There is another Co-operative, Generation Community, who actively seek projects in low income areas, with high fuel poverty levels, also having good criteria for low carbon technologies. For my £1,000 investment in the Gen Community Newport Solar Share offer I will purchase approximately 3 PV panels, contribution to the inverter and installation, resulting in a net electricity saving to the fuel poor household of £40 per annum, and resulting in carbon savings of 268 kgs per annum, meaning overall less reliance on fossil fuels in the UK. For my part, i get a projected 7% per annum return. There are tax reliefs, through EIS, to be had as well. As Gen Community are not geographically tied to one specific area, I look forward to their next share offer, where i can make an impact investment, outside of my native Wimbledon.
Finally, we are progressing on community ownership of our precious energy supply.
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