Power to the people: UK’s first council-run solar investment scheme planned for Swindon

February 1, 2016

Swindon Council hopes to launch the UK’s first scheme to give residents the chance to invest in a major solar farm on the town’s doorstep.

The unique scheme would generate a return for its investors as well as funding community projects over the next 20 years, according to the council. Local people could put in as little as £5 in return for a ‘Swindon solar bond’.

The pioneering plan goes before the council’s cabinet on February 10. If approved, the Swindon Community Solar Farm would be the first of its kind in the UK to allow residents to invest directly in such a project and would further boost Swindon’s position in the vanguard of sustainable power generation in the UK.

The 5MW solar farm – on council-owned land at Common Farm near Wroughton – would generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of 1,200 homes and save around 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

The farm has already received planning approval though the council’s use of special Local Development Orders, which speed up the planning process but still allow full public consultation. Construction work would start this spring if the cabinet gives it the green light.

The site will be developed by Public Power Solutions, a company wholly owned by the council, which has structured the mixture of public sector and community investment to make the scheme financially viable.

A new Community Interest Company (CIC), also wholly owned by the council, would manage the solar farm, which would cost £4.8m to build. Some £3m of this would come from the council’s investment with the remaining £1.8m from community investors.

Some 65% of the profits from the solar farm would go towards local community initiatives, with the remainder going to investors and the council. The ‘Swindon solar bond’ is expected to have an estimated 6% effective rate of return over 20 years.

Along with its expected financial benefits, the solar farm will help Swindon in its aim to install 200MW of renewable capacity by 2020 – enough to meet the equivalent energy requirements of every home in the borough.

A total of 140MW has already been built or is being planned – a record that has put Swindon ahead of most other towns and cities of equivalent size in the UK and earned the council plaudits for its approach to green energy generation.

The bonds would be provided in partnership with Abundance Investment, a London-based firm that has successfully raised £15m for 16 different projects in the past three years

While financial details of the proposed project are still being finalised, local people can register their interest by visiting www.adundanceinvestment.com/swindon

If approved by the cabinet, the investment offer is expected to be formally launched next month.

Cabinet Member for transport and sustainability Dale Heenan said: “For years, companies have been trying to find ways to make investing more accessible and understandable. Swindon Borough Council’s approach to solar farms means that local residents can invest as little as £5 or more than £5,000. Whether they are providing for a child’s future, their own retirement, or just for a rainy day, our approach is democratic finance in action.

“The majority of profits will fund community projects. We have the right partner in Abundance, a compelling case to show benefits to the local community, and local residents who invest should receive a better return than a normal bank saving accounts. This could be the model all councils use in the future for community investment projects.”

Abundance managing director Bruce Davis added: “We’re really pleased to be working with Swindon Borough Council to help them achieve this genuinely innovative and exciting community investment opportunity.

“We expect this to be a real game-changer and provide a new model for cash-strapped local authorities to fund community projects. It’s a win for the council, a win for the community and a win for the environment.”

Last year Public Power Solutions and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust were behind the UK’s first energy company to be created by a Wildlife Trust. The £5.6m, 9.1MW Braydon Manor Farm scheme west of Swindon will provide enough energy for more than 1,400 homes. It will include 18,000 solar panels installed over 18 acres.


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