Co-operative investment platform Ethex is hosting a £2.5 million share float for small investors, designed to convert seven commercial solar farms – four of them already operating – into co-operative ownership.  Up to £20 million in benefits to locals could flow.

Four local Community Benefit Societies (CBSs) launched their share offers yesterday, with the fifth, Gower Power in Swansea, expected to follow suit soon.   Some are buying more than one farm.

The unique transfer will see commercial PV developers sell out their operating farms to small private investors, who will run them under the banner Community Energy Together on a one-person, one-vote basis.

Totalling 36 MWp, the farms are in Shropshire, Kent, Devon, Isle of Wight and south Wales. According to Ethex, that figure will boost the generating capacity of England’s community-owned farms by 20%.

Over the projects’ lifetime they will generate a collective community benefit fund of around £20 million to support local social and environmental projects and launch new ventures in community renewables.

The farm portfolio is currently owned by Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE), a partnership set up by Big Society Capital, the social impact investor, and Power to Change, a philanthropic trust, with the goal of moving commercial PV farms into community ownership.

To do that, CORE has pioneered what it calls a cross-collateralised finance model. This lowers borrowing costs and spreads risk, thus increasing potential pay outs in kind and service of community benefits.

Collaborating through CET, the local groups will acquire the farms from CORE, completing a transfer of ownership from commercial shareholders to CBS members.  The move will ensure surpluses from energy sales are safeguarded for reinvestment in the participants’ localities.

 The only way is Ethex

With investments beginning at  £250, the offers aim for an annual return of 6%. Funds subscribed beyond the target £2.5 million will be turned to repaying debt early and earmarked for community benefit ventures.  Recent examples include:

  • Gower Power establishing a local energy tariff, enabling power sales from a south Wales solar farm to local customers, in partnership with supplier Ecotricity
  • Yealm Community Energy in Devon providing funds for a community-owned electric ferry across the River Yealm’s estuary

Power to Change climate action manager Will Walker observed: “Our evidence shows that when assets and services are owned by the people they serve, they offer better value for the public. Resources and jobs stay local, community wealth is created and places benefit from economic resilience.”

Community businesses solve the puzzle of creating better places to live and work. And they speed up our responses to the climate emergency and zero carbon transition”.

Ethex CEO Lisa Ashford MBE, pictured, said: “This is a great opportunity to invest in local solar power at a national scale to support a cleaner, greener, fairer future.

“Investors can own a stake in a solar farm near them, or diversify their portfolio by investing in several across England and Wales. What’s more, every £1 invested in a Community Energy Together solar project will generate £8 of community impact value, while supporting much-needed locally generated and owned renewable energy.”

Emma Bridge, chief executive of lobby group Community Energy England, hailed the simultaneous  launch of five CET share offers as a significant milestone for community energy.

More details here and here.


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