08 August 2012
The directors at Westmill Solar Co-operative in the United Kingdom are well on the way to raising an impressive total of £4 million from individuals and organisations keen to invest in a 5 MW solar park - the first community-owned solar park of its size in the country and one of the largest community-owned solar farms in the world.
In 2010, Adam Twine, who farms Westmill farm in Oxfordshire, created the Co-operative, with the intention that the wider community would be given the opportunity to own a share of the plant - one of the few to benefit from the original level of UK government Feed-in Tariffs (FiT), which now stands at 32.2p/kWh. However, 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. As a result, the plant was installed by a commercial developer, which has since granted an option for the Co-operative to buy it back.
"[We are] currently 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 expectations," says Philip Wolfe, Chairman of Westmill Solar Co-operative.
Making the cut
The plant was commissioned and connected in July 2011, just before the Feed-in Tariff cuts on 1st August. German specialists Abakus took charge of all engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) work at the site, which consists of 20,260 polycrystalline solar PV panels from AUO, mounted on structures from Zimmermann PV-Stahlbau GmbH and connected to SMA Solar Technology inverters.
The park was installed under the FiT regime, which had a maximum capacity limit of 5MW. As Wolfe explains, the plant is 'just under' this threshold, and is designed to produce about 4.5 million kWh per annum, representing the power consumption of 1,400 average UK houses and saving about 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
Innovative share offer
It is hoped that the share offer will raise a total of £4 million from individuals investing between £250 and £20,000 each. As of mid-July, the Solar Co-operative has sold £2 million worth of shares to over 500 prospective members.
"The balance of the funds to acquire the £15m plant [is] intended to be provided in the form of a fixed term loan, probably from a pension fund, being arranged by Investec Bank. Once the funds have been raised, we will exercise our option to purchase the project," says Wolfe.
Looking ahead, Wolfe is confident that, because the plant is 'already built and working well,' there should be 'very little' additional work required, apart from keeping it at 'peak performance.'
"Our illustrative figures show that if we do this every investor will receive their money back plus £3.30 in income for every pound they invest. This represents an internal rate of return of about 11%," he says.
Written by Andrew Williams, Contributing Editor, UK, Solar Novus Today