- 36MWp of assets see 20% more solar capacity in the hands of local communities in England and Wales
- Energy generated by 5 community businesses is enough to power almost 13,000 homes.
- Solar farms forecasted to generate over £20 million for local communities.
The biggest transfer of community energy assets ever in the UK has been completed, with solar farms with a collective capacity of 36MWp going into community ownership, increasing England and Wales’s community solar capacity by one fifth.
The transfer sees five community businesses across England and Wales take ownership of solar farms generating enough energy to power almost 13,000 homes, with expectations that this will provide over £20 million in forecast community benefit funding from surplus revenues. Community benefit funding will be used to support local programmes addressing important issues such as homelessness, food and fuel poverty, education and climate action while supporting the UK’s transition to net zero.
The five community businesses have formed a partnership called Community Energy Together (CET), and between them have taken ownership of 8 solar farms. Amongst them is Wight Community Energy (WCE), a community benefit society set up in 2015 to deliver community-owned renewable energy and low carbon projects on the Isle of Wight. WCE has had assets under ownership since its inception and expects to invest £2 million locally across the lifetime of the projects, with profits already being channelled into organisations like The Footprint Trust that combat fuel poverty and Keert, who provide cheaper low-carbon post delivery options for people on the island. The other businesses include Gower Power, Kent Community Energy, Shropshire and Telford Community Energy and Yealm Community Energy in Devon.
The handover is the culmination of a process by which the groups have taken ownership of solar assets in their community. The deal has been facilitated by Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE), a partnership between the UK’s leading social impact investor Big Society Capital and Power to Change an independent trust that shapes the conditions for community business to thrive. Designed and managed by the UK’s leading environmental impact investment advisor and fund manager, Finance Earth, the closure of the fund marks the successful realisation of its initial purpose of facilitating community ownership of renewable assets and creating funding streams for wider social change.
The partners see community ownership as a vital part of the UK’s journey to Net Zero, with clean energy sources, energy security and funding opportunities to combat social issues all increasing from deals such as this. The deal is also a blueprint for the Labour party’s energy plans, which encourage community ownership of small-scale projects, cleaner power, money being reinvested in communities and utilisation of private investment as part of the GB Energy policy. Energy security has been a pressing political issue as volatility of gas prices and availability have seen record profits for energy companies and spiralling costs for consumers.
Wight Community Energy Director, Colin Palmer said:
“As a community organisation we have to generate revenue to make a social impact. We have high levels of fuel poverty on the Isle of Wight – the revenue we generate from our solar farm can be used to help people tackle this problem, as well as supporting schemes like Keert which uses bikes for ultra-low emission home deliveries – and also to support us in lobbying for increased access for green energy generation on the island.”
Community Energy Together Chair, Leila Ferraby said:
“Through the innovative creation of CORE and the successful completion of this transaction, Big Society Capital and Power to Change generated a once in lifetime opportunity for five communities in England and Wales to secure ownership of ground mounted solar farms that generate clean, green, renewable energy and deliver significant surplus funds over the assets’ lifetimes to a wide range of local community projects.”
Big Society Capital Investment Director, Joe Shamash said:
“This transfer is testament to the potential that community energy has to help the UK reach its net zero targets in a way that benefits local communities throughout the country. We are so pleased to have helped communities take ownership of solar farms that deliver the multiple benefits of energy security, a cleaner planet and funding for local community projects.”
Power to Change CEO, Tim Davies-Pugh said:
“Local and community energy is key to making the UK a clean energy superpower and building an economy that works for people and planet. Bold, collaborative approaches are needed to rapidly grow community energy at scale, opening new markets and bringing in institutional investment, whilst remaining embedded in local communities. As a key partner in this innovative scheme, we stand ready to share the lessons, particularly as the Labour Party further develops its approach to community energy through its Local Power Plan.”
Finance Earth Founder and Managing Director Richard Speak said:
“Since its inception in 2016, and despite the numerous global and UK challenges in the years since, CORE has realised its founding mission: develop a portfolio of community solar assets that can access low-cost institutional debt, create efficiencies that maximise community benefit funding, and deliver the first unsubsidised transfer to community ownership. With this landmark transaction, CORE and Community Energy Together have secured these valuable assets – and over £20 million projected community benefit funding – into local community ownership.”
About Big Society Capital
Big Society Capital is the UK’s leading social impact investor. Our mission is to grow the amount of money invested in tackling social issues and inequalities in the UK. We do this by investing our own capital and helping others invest for impact too.
Since 2012, we have helped build a market that has directed more than £9 billion into social purpose organisations tackling issues from homelessness and mental health, to childhood obesity and fuel poverty, a ten-fold increase in ten years.
About Community Energy Together
Community Energy Together represents an innovative collaboration between five community energy groups across England and Wales. The groups worked together to bring a portfolio of seven operational solar farms into community ownership in 2023, having raised significant amounts from individual investors across the UK. The solar farms will collectively save an estimated 317,000 CO2 over their lifetimes and supply the equivalent of 12,750 homes. Collectively, the solar farms add 20% to the total of community owned solar in England and Wales. They will also generate around £20M of surplus funds over the lifetimes of the solar farms, which will be invested back into local community projects, providing long-term benefits to help fight climate change.
About Finance Earth
Finance Earth is the UK’s leading environmental impact investment advisor and fund manager, with a mission to scale up investment in conservation, climate and communities. Our team has designed over £1 billion of impact investment structures in the UK and overseas. We also provide independent, specialist advice to public, private and charitable sector clients in the UK and around the world, helping to deliver projects and funding mechanisms that drive investment into nature and support local communities. We are a wholly employee-owned social enterprise and recycle 51% of our profits into on-mission activities and investments.
About Power to Change
Power to Change is an independent social change organisation. We know community business strengthens the local community and we work to dismantle barriers, unlock funding, amplify what works, and make the case for change – to shape the conditions for community business to thrive.
About The National Lottery Community Fund
We are the largest non-statutory community funder in the UK – community is at the heart of our purpose, vision and name.
We support activities that create resilient communities that are more inclusive and environmentally sustainable and that will strengthen society and improve lives across the UK.
We’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to work closely with Government to distribute vital grants and funding from key Government programmes and initiatives.
Image: Wight Community Energy solar farm from above