The UK’s latest community renewables project came online on Friday as Southill Community Energy (SCE) flicked the switch on the 4.5MW Southill Solar farm in West Oxfordshire.
The project, which was built by developer Solarcentury, is now expected to provide enough clean power for around 1,100 homes.
SCE has also said the project will deliver over £750,000 in community benefit payments over its lifetime and provide biodiversity benefits through the planting of hedgerows, orchards and wild flowers at the site on the Cornbury Park estate, just outside Charlbury. The payments will support a series of low carbon initiatives, including a £100,000 programme to improve the energy efficiency of the Charlbury community centre through the installation of triple glazing, low energy lighting, and a heat recovery system.
The project invited individuals to invest in the scheme and £1.1m was raised through crowd-funding, 80 per cent of which came from local residents living in Oxfordshire.
“This project has been led by the community from the start and we’ve had to negotiate some tricky obstacles on the way,” said Tim Crisp, director of SCE. “We hope that Southill Solar will be a beacon of excellence, demonstrating the positive power of community energy. Communities are coming together to find ways to deal with the big energy problems we’re facing as a country. We want to take control, establish a safe and sustainable energy supply, drive down energy prices and lower emissions to help fight climate change.”
The opening will be marked by a launch event this Thursday at the Memorial Hall in Charlbury, featuring a speech from Solarcentury founder and environmental campaigner Jeremy Leggett.
“Now, more than ever, the world needs the spirit, leadership example, and actual emissions reductions that community energy projects like this embody,” said Leggett. “The US, and to an extent the UK, are stepping towards fossil fuels and away from clean energy, just as the majority of other national governments, many local governments, and thousands of communities the world over are going the other way.”
Community energy projects have faced a challenging year following cuts to subsidies for solar and wind farms and changes to the tax regime that threatened to undermine returns from community-funded projects.
However, as renewable energy costs continue to fall and conventional savings accounts offer minimal levels of interest, advocates of community energy maintain that crowd-funding can continue to drive investment in clean energy projects.