What’s it like to set up and run a community-owned solar farm?
Green Drinks Zoom held at 7.30pm on Thursday 18th February 2021
Notes from the session
Marshfield Community Land Trust (MCLT) is exploring the feasibility of setting up a community-owned solar array north of the A420, to generate renewable energy for the village.
Sustainable Marshfield devoted its February one-hour Green Drinks online session to hear from Wedmore village, similar to Marshfield, who installed such a system 7 years ago.
Steve Mewes, Chair of Wedmore Community Power Co-operative, shared experiences and answered questions from 50 local residents at the online session, moderated by Peter Woodward.
The following notes have been taken from the live Zoom and re-ordered for clarity:
About Green Wedmore
• Started in 2012 and built in 2013
• The site over 2 paddocks of 2-3 acres is located a quarter mile north of the village
• The 1MW system generates 1.1 million KWH per annum which powers about 250 houses on a good day
• Finding suitable land near the grid connection with positive landowners is crucial
• Important to get good help/advice from an early stage. These schemes are complex!
• Early and ongoing engagement with the local community is vital
• Every house in the village was leafleted to explain the plan
• 4 public events held on consecutive nights in local school. 50-60 people at each event
• Then applied for planning permission. Permission for solar does not change the land use to brownfield
• There was not 100% support. The Parish Council were not unanimous in support
• Objectors were a small minority and made a classic error of not putting their names on flyers
• Key was to be completely open and to keep talking and talking
• All opposition has now entirely evaporated. Newcomers often don’t know the solar farm is there!
• Volunteers invited to be actively involved in aspects of the construction: ‘how often do you get the chance to help build your own power station!’
• CPC set up as a not for profit co-operative
• 125 members invested as Bond and Share holders
• Shares deliver a 5.5% return to investors. It’s worth investing in a good prospectus
• Minimum investment was £100 to encourage community involvement
• Finding the money quickly was not a problem at all – plenty out there.
• Members elect a Management Board who are all volunteers
• The technical operation is managed by British Solar Renewables (BSR) who do all site maintenance and take the hassle away from volunteers
• Share Energy are paid an annual flat-rate fee (£700?) to do administration – communication with members, payments etc
• Getting money back out of the Grid is a challenge. Good Energy is the purchaser.
• Each year we have negotiated a new Purchase Power agreement with them
• Have now switched to an Export Rate which gives a better return
• Electricity prices haven’t increased as predicted in business plan
• No security issue encountered on this site. Weather is the biggest damage risk
• Insurance companies now requiring high tech surveillance. Deciding not to spend £30,000 on kit
• The panels are expected to last for full 25 years
• The inverters are most likely to fail as they have a 10 year lifespan. Replacement twice has been factored into business plan
• The Business Plan is structured to pay for removal of everything if we want to after 25 years Community benefit
• A core mission for whole project was that all the financial surplus goes back to the community
• In addition to returns to investors, estimate of £600,000 payments to the community over the 25-year life time. £45,000 paid out in grants so far
• Sub cttee of the board meets 3 times a year to assess grant applications
• Simple 2-page form to apply for max £5,000 grant. Examples for grant awards:
o Wedmore village hall panels
o Shower block for girl guides
o LED lights in community buildings
o Warmer Wedmore to help retrofit social housing with insulation
Site retained as farmland
• A founding principle was to enhance the site for biodiversity as pasture
• Panels are slightly raised to allow sheep grazing – they love it and have caused no damage
• There was a marginal increase in cost, but prepared to pay as it’s the right thing to do
• Biodiversity very important. Botanical survey done before and during works
• 400m of new screen native hedgerow around sites planted
• Decision to use no concrete. Supports piled into the ground will help easy removal But that was then!
• Not replacing panels with more efficient ones. Minimising the carbon lifecycle of the project important
• At the end of life the panels will probably be sold into the second hand market – or recycled as there will be a fully-fledged reprocessing industry in 20 years’ time
• Next scheme being developed is a wind turbine with battery storage
Green Wedmore: http://www.greenwedmore.co.uk
Wedmore Community Power Co- operative: https://wedmorecpc.co.uk
Marshfield Community Land Trust: http://marshfieldclt.org
Sustainable Marshfield: Free to join firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve believes projects are still financially very doable even without the Feed in Tariff
• Solar panels are half the price and more efficient
• Battery storage offers more options to earn money. BSR can help with this
Wider community impact
• Hope that the project encourages people to think about their own carbon footprint
• Never been worried about having an active core group with a small turnout to meetings etc
• Keep plugging away and focus on actions