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Wilmington Farm Solar Array

Supporting the local economy and increasing energy security
Mongoose Picture from MyGreenPod Sustainable News

mongose2Bath and West Community Energy (BWCE)’s 2.34MW Wilmington Farm Solar Array is already up and running: it went live in March and, at the time, was Bath and North East Somerset’s biggest community-owned solar array. Investment from local community members and beyond totalled £2.1 million.

The 12-acre project generates clean electricity and helps reduce our dependence on carbon- intensive fossil fuels; Wilmington Farm Solar Array is expected to save 1,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.

In its first year, the Wilmington Farm array’s projected annual output is 2,223MWh – enough to meet annual electricity demand for over 650 homes.

Conservation

The site is managed for conservation purposes; according to the Wildlife Enhancement & Management Plan that was accepted as a planning condition for the project, the land beneath the panels will eventually turn into a wildflower meadow that’s grazed by sheep. Due to the relative lack of human activity on the site, the wildlife and wildflower populations are expected to thrive, enhancing the site’s biodiversity.

Community energy in Bath

BWCE was established as a community benefit society in 2010 as a result of initiatives from local community groups Transition Bath and Transition Community Corsham.

Its purpose is to bring community ownership to energy projects in Bath and the surrounding area, concentrating on projects that will generate significant community benefit, support the local economy, reduce the impact of climate change and increase our energy security.

The Wilmington Farm Solar Array is a significant step towards that goal. The aim is to increase demand for local services and build a local sustainable energy infrastructure that will make local communities more resilient in the face of increasing energy costs and insecurity.

The story so far

To date BWCE has developed around 620kW of its own solar PV projects. These include a 250kW ground-mounted system at Hartham Business Park and a range of roof-mounted schemes on schools and community buildings.

BWCE has developed and commissioned a 1MW solar array in partnership with Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy at Chelworth in Wiltshire, and has successfully raised £2.2 million in partnership with Low Carbon Gordano to develop a 1.8MW solar array at Moorhouse Farm, near Avonmouth.

Community fund

mongose4BWCE’s surplus profits are put back into local communities through the independent Bath & West Low Carbon Community Fund, which allocates money to projects proposed by groups and communities near BWCE projects. To be eligible for support, projects must meet criteria such as reducing fuel poverty and carbon (through schemes addressing transport and waste, for example).

Over the last two years BWCE has paid nearly £25,000 to its Community Fund. This year it has allocated £50,000. Over the next 25 years Wilmington Farm Solar Array could generate over £700,000 for the fund, and over £1.7m could be generated from BWCE’s full portfolio.

BWCE is currently developing solar PV, wind, biomass and hydro-electric projects with a combined capacity of over 15MW. The long-term goal is to develop as a community-owned Energy Supply Company (ESCo), supplying locally generated electricity to residents and the wider community.

Investing

Investors – from in and around Bath and further afield – become members of the community benefit society. Their investment will be used to fund clean energy projects in their locality.

In return, members receive an annual return, have a say in how the company is managed and help to decide how much money is contributed to the local community fund. Members can also stand for election as directors.

BWCE has been trading for three years, with 7% interest paid on members’ investments year-on-year. BWCE’s projects have on average performed between 5-10% above forecast.

Click here to find out more about BWCE’s community energy projects. More about the community fund can be found here.

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