This article appears in the summer issue of MyGreenPod.com Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 14 July 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online.
Members of the public are being invited to become part-owners of Wales’s first community-owned solar farm. The array is already up and running; from the edge of the Gower Peninsula, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just west of Swansea, it generates enough clean electricity to power over 300 houses.
Gower Regeneration expects its 1MW solar farm to pay investors a 5% annual return from January 2018, and create a community benefit fund of over £500k to help build education and skills in the local area.
The solar array is near the Gower Heritage Centre, a partner in the development, and the project is a lesson in local history itself; ‘It sits bang on top of a coal seam and literally wraps around a mine shaft’, says Ant Flanagan, director of Gower Power Co-op CIC and Gower Regeneration Ltd. ‘It was a story waiting to be told.’
Gower Heritage Centre’s main attraction is a 12th-century water mill that’s still fully operational. It was used by locals to grind oats for animals and barley for bread. ‘For the best part of a thousand years the mill and surrounding buildings have been a centre of rural enterprise based around a continually replenishing source of energy’, Ant tells us. ‘Hundreds of families came here to trade and process their produce.’
Today the water mill helps visitors understand how people worked the land in the past. ‘What’s really exciting is that we’ll be using the profits from the solar farm to support new and existing land-based livelihoods to trade from the centre’, Ant explains. ‘We’ll be asking important questions of the 65,000 annual visitors about where they think they should be sourcing their energy and food. Gower’s renewable energy generation has shaped people’s behaviour for hundreds of years, and now it’s set to make a positive impact for hundreds of years to come!’
‘On 08 June this year, renewable energy produced over 50% of the UK’s electricity – more than coal and gas combined. Looking back I think the fact our solar farm’s located on a disused coal seam is a fascinating piece of living history that can help shape one of the most important stories of our age: that of our successful stewardship of the natural environment.’
Director of Gower Power Co-op CIC and Gower Regeneration Ltd
Gower Solar Farm may be the only community-owned solar farm in Wales, but Ant believes there’s ‘definitely’ an appetite for more – in the local community and beyond. Gower Power has already had success with the Swansea Community Energy & Enterprise Scheme (SCEES), through which solar panels were installed on nine schools and a care home in and around the wards of Townhill and Penderry in Swansea. The public response was so positive that the £425k share offer had to close seven days early because it was over-subscribed.
‘It sounds a bit of a cliché to say people don’t trust banks and want more from their money’, Ant says, ‘but it’s true. There’s a massive trend towards more ethical investment and choices. I think people are really waking up to both the potential positive power of money and the fact that by doing things collectively we can achieve incredible things, even if everyone just chips in a little.’
The minimum investment for the Gower Solar Farm share offer, which has been launched on ethical investment platform Ethex, is £300, but Swansea residents can invest as little as £100. ‘Clearly, people putting in smaller amounts of money aren’t doing it for the financial returns – they’re more motivated by the range of social and environmental benefits’, Ant tells us. ‘Some people want to invest larger amounts; they know they can get a decent and relatively low-risk return while creating a positive impact.’
The solar farm is right next to a school, which has allowed Gower Regeneration to start building a range of educational opportunities. ‘After the share off er closes, investors will be invited to look closely at how to make the best use of future profits’, Ant says. ‘We want to ensure our project becomes the cornerstone of Gower’s regeneration.
Click here to view the investment opportunity.
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