Gawcott Fields Community Solar Project CIC this week announced it has raised over £4m to finance a community owned solar array in North Buckinghamshire.
The community solar farm, at Gawcott Fields Farm near Buckingham, has been generating electricity and income from the sun since June 2016. The 4.17 megawatt solar array is made up of over 16,000 solar panels and is expected to generate over 4 million kWh of renewable electricity each year – the equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of around 1,000 homes and a saving of 50,000 tons of CO2 emissions relative to other power sources for the same power generation.
The innovative finance structure brings together loan investment from commercial and social investors, community bondholders and grant funding from a national foundation. Santander Bank has provided £3m of senior debt alongside a £575,000 loan from social investor Social and Sustainable Capital (SASC) via the Community Investment Fund (CIF). A community bond offer has raised nearly £420,000 from 127 individual investors. Power to Change, an independent charitable trust set up to support community businesses across England provided a £75,000 grant to support community projects in the local area. CIF has also purchased £75,000 of community bonds on the same terms as the community through a Power to Change grant.
The solar farm is owned by Gawcott Fields Community Solar Project, a community interest company (CIC) that is run for the benefit of the local community.
The solar farm is earning income from the sale of electricity and a Feed-in Tariff. Surplus income generated by the Community Solar Farm (after operating and finance costs) will be used to provide funding for community organisations and projects in the local area. The project is expected to generate a total of around £2 million of community surplus over the 30-year life of the project. For the first three years, half the surplus will be used to fund a program in the local area to help people in fuel poverty struggling with their energy bills. This program will be run by Buckingham and Winslow Citizens Advice in collaboration with the Milton Keynes-based energy charity, the National Energy Foundation. The other half of the surplus will be used to support a fund to provide grants to local community organisations.
Andrew Williams, from Santander’s Infrastructure and Renewable Energy Finance division said: “Gawcott Fields is a fantastic community business which we are extremely proud to be supporting through our first investment in the community energy sector. We are also very pleased to be investing alongside our long term social investment partners Social and Sustainable Capital”
Benjamin Rick, co-founder and Managing Director of SASC said: “GFCS is SASC’s fourth investment in community energy and I’m delighted we’ve been able to support this fantastic initiative. Our role as a social investor is crucial to ensuring community organisations benefit from renewable energy projects to deliver significant local social impact. Our partnership with Power to Change has also enabled GFCS to access grant funding to support the project”
Communities for Renewables CIC (CfR) a community energy developer, asset manager and fundraiser is managing the operations of the farm, having previously raised over £25m in community investment and loan finance for community energy.
Jake Burnyeat, CfR Managing Director who also sits on GFCS’ board said: “The community solar farm was built last June through a collaboration between CfR, the local community, a local landowner and Pfalz Solar who built a high quality plant and provided construction finance. This innovative finance raising secures the long-term ownership and benefits for the local community.”