UK: Share offer launched for 5 MW community solar farm

England’s Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is offering investors the chance to get involved in one of the U.K.’s largest community-owned solar PV plants – the 5 MW Braydon Manor Farm installation near Swindon, Wiltshire.

Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy (WWCE), an initiative of the Trust, has launched a community share offer that hopes to raise £2.7 million ($4.25 million) in order to fund the farm, which has already been granted planning and grid connection permission at the Grade 4 agricultural site. Total funding for the project is expected to run to £6.1 million ($9.6 million), with green bank Triodos Bank providing a loan of £3.4 million ($5.3 million).

WWCE has previously been involved in the creation of the 1 MW community-owned Chelworth Solar Array, which was developed along similar lines and has already paid its first 7% return to investors.

The terms of the Braydon Manor Farm solar plant are identical, with local members of the community offered the chance to invest a minimum of £500 ($786) in the scheme, which has forecast a 7% annual return for the entirety of its 25-year life cycle, says WWCE.

Boosting biodiversity

Another key benefit of the project will be the emphasis placed on protecting and nurturing biodiversity at the site, which is located near to the village of Purton, Wiltshire.

"The Braydon Manor Farm site is low-grade land previously used for grazing horses, which makes it ideal for a solar array," said Lesley Bennett, chair of WWCE. "Land around the solar panels will be transformed into a wildflower meadow and become a haven for wildlife, with sheep grazing as well.

"Not only will the farm generate clean renewable energy, but it will also help support traditional agriculture and enhance biodiversity."

The share offer for the Braydon Manor Farm site closes on December 12. Once development begins, the array will plow 80% of any surplus profit to local communities via the community fund, with the remaining 20% steered directly to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust in order to fund its conservation work.

The Trust calculates that the solar farm will mitigate the effects of 60,000 tons of carbon emissions over its lifetime, supplying solar power to 1,400 local households in the process. The community fund is expected to share some £2.1 million between the Trust and the community over the 25-year life cycle of the array.

"With the public sector and community working closely together, this project can become a model for community energy generation," said James Owen, commercial director for Swindon Commercial Services, which will develop the array. "The installation will help to cut carbon and contribute to energy security, but instead of the profits going to big energy companies, it will be owned by the community, fund community projects, and promote biodiversity."

Community funding will be managed via online social investment portal Ethex, which was recently awarded investment platform of the year at the U.K. Social Enterprise Awards. WWCE will also work with Bath & West Community Energy – which was recently named Community Energy Organization of the Year – on the development of the project.

The current largest community-owned solar plant in the U.K. is the 5 MW Westmill Solar Farm, which is located a few miles away on the north-eastern edge of Swindon.