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A village in Shropshire has raised £3.5million to acquire a solar farm that can power nearly 1,000 homes with clean energy. With the nation is having to fork out twice as much as they were paying last year due to the soaring cost of gas foreign imports, any solution to alleviate the financial pressure will be welcomed. And in this case, a community has taken the situation into its own hands in a desperate bid to drive bills down and boost energy security. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the first community initiative to take this bold stance and if the cost of energy shows no signs of relenting, it may not be the last.
In Sheriffhales village on the outskirts of Shropshire, the locals have managed to get their hands on a 100 percent community-owned 3.2megwatt solar farm after it raised £565,000 and got a further £3 million from Triodos Bank UK.
Sheriffhales Community Energy, a not-for-profit organisation, was set up to help generate income for the local parish, and has now acquired the solar farm initially set up in 2016 by a commercial renewable company.
The farm was later brought into part-community ownership, originally through Mongoose Energy and in 2018 through short-term investment from a social investment fund.
The community solar farm over the last six years has surpassed its average generation projections by 5 percent, currently generating over £400,000 per year in revenues.
Under the new financial arrangement, the firm is expected to generate a £1million surplus in revenue for community projects over the course of the farm’s operations, which are expected to continue through the 2040s.
Peter Bonsall, chair and trustee of Sheriffhales Community Energy said: “Sheriffhales is now one of the few villages in the UK to own its own solar farm. We are a rural parish with an agrarian economy – we don’t have a village pub, shop or bus.
“Bringing the solar farm into community ownership will bring an income to the parish that is more than the parish council precept. We will be using those funds to help address some of the challenges we face as a rural community, to tackle fuel poverty and other urgent village needs.”
Jake Burnyeat, director at Communities for Renewables CIC, manager of the project, said: “Projects like this clearly illustrate the importance of community energy, and the impact that funds generated can have for a rural community. We’ve been pleased to support the people of Sheriffhales on their journey towards full community ownership.”
But this is not the only community-owned solar farm which generates revenue and clean energy for residents of the area. The UK’s biggest community-owned ground mount solar park is Ray Valley Solar, which in July 2022 became connected to the national electricity grid.
It is set to bring a five-fold increase to annual green electricity generation for the local area it is set up in. Located in the Arncott are of Oxfordshire, it is also expected to keep £2.6million worth of energy spend in the local economy each year and provide a staggering £13million of community benefit funding over the project’s lifetime.
Dr Barbara Hammond, CEO of Low Carbon Hub, said: “We are so thrilled to be building our first ever ground mount solar park, which will have a significant impact on the amount of green electricity produced in Oxfordshire. We are committed to putting community energy at the heart of the new zero carbon energy system.”
More community-owned renewable projects could also help the UK to press ahead with its goal of getting off fossil fuels by 2050.
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But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said during his leadership campaign that he does not want the UK to lose its best farmland land to solar panels, writing in an article for The Telegraph that he would make “new rules to ensure that solar panels are built on sheds and commercial properties instead of productive farmland”.
He wrote: “On my watch, we will not lose swathes of our best farmland to solar farms. Instead, we should be making sure that solar panels are installed on commercial buildings, on sheds and on properties. Likewise, we must protect our best farmland from rewilding, which should not take place at the expense of food production.”
But Mr Sunak, ahead of the COP27 climate summit being held in Egypt this week, has also said that he wants to make the UK a “clean energy superpower”.
He said: “Fighting climate change is not just a moral good – is it fundamental to our future prosperity and security. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and contemptible manipulation of energy prices has only reinforced the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels.We need to move further and faster to transition to renewable energy, and I will ensure the UK is at the forefront of this global movement as a clean energy superpower.”
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