Ray of hope: UK’s biggest co-operative solar PV farm secures funding


A loan from ethical bank Triodos is today confirmed as securing the construction of Britain’s biggest community-owned PV generator, a 19.2MWp ground mounted farm to be built in Oxfordshire’s Ray Valley near Bicester.

Oxford-based community energy activists Low Carbon Hub will develop and operate the park.  The group secured planning permission for the 95-acre site as long ago as November 2019. They raised £4.5 million from retail investors, plus a loan from Oxford City Council.

The Ray, a tributary of the Cherwell, will host Low Carbon Hub’s biggest solar venture yet. With grid-scale battery storage as an option, Ray Valley is the group’s first ground-mounted facility, and will boost the group’s solar capacity fivefold.

All 47 of LCH’s existing arrays cover the roofs of schools, halls and community buildings.

The Bicester venture benefits from additional funding from its parent Project LEO ( Local Energy Oxfordshire), a £40 million multiagency social enterprise.

LEO is designed to assess the feasibility of a county-scale grid for trading and retailing low carbon power.  Using smart grid technology, it is regarded as one of the UK’s most ambitious experiments in behaviour change in electricity markets.

Intrinsic to Britain’s biggest community-owned solar farm to date, will be a fund intended to grow to £10 million from revenues from traded power.  The fund will route community, intended to direct back into the county’s economy.

Dr Barbara Hammond MBE, the former senior civil servant who heads Low Carbon Hub, hailed Triodos’ intervention as being motivated by community values closely aligned to the enterprise’s own.

Oxfordshire has a strong tradition of community-controlled co-ops, generating clean electricity under citizens’ control.  On Adam Twine’s farm near Watchfield on the Swindon road, Westmill Solar Co-operative  houses 3MW of turbines plus 2MW of PV. In 2013 it won an EU award for its ‘imaginative approach’ to fundraising and community engagement.

Volunteer-led community energy in England may at last be enjoying a political ‘moment in the sun’. Earlier this month The Energyst reported how Parliament’s Conservative-controlled Environmental Audit committee called on energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng to liberate Britain’s 150-plus co-ops by making it legal for them to retail power direct to their communities.

MPs on the EAC are also concerned that D-BEIS’ energy white paper issued in December makes only fleeting mention of local or community-controlled electricity.

The committee has given the minister until 7 June to reply to its detailed demands for reform.


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