Cornwall’s first community-owned energy co-operative Community Power Cornwall has acquired the wholly owned subsidiary West Country Renewables Limited for approximately £1.34m. This is the first time a Cornish community energy society has bought an existing company and is a significant step for community ownership of energy generation in Cornwall. Assets being transferred from private to community ownership is becoming more of a viable and practised method for community energy organisation across the UK looking to grow and ensure the benefits of this infrastructure are kept local.
The sale brings five solar arrays located at Mount Hawke Skate Park, St Agnes Railway Yard, St Agnes Presingoll Farm and Scarne Industrial Estate totalling 500kW, and three 11kW wind turbines which are scattered across the rest of the South West into community ownership.
Using conservative estimates, it is thought that by bringing West Country Renewables into local community ownership, around £2.5m will be retained in the Cornish economy before any multiplier effect.
The acquisition was funded by a loan of £1.43m from a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) called The Low Carbon Society Limited which makes loans to Community Enterprises to support projects with positive social and environmental outcomes. TLC Society has a loan facility with Cornwall Council which funded £1.27m of this acquisition.
Clayton Elliott of Community Power Cornwall said, “It is great to have kept WCR in local community ownership as it would have been a great shame if the money flows that WCR derives from Cornish natural resources had been lost from the local economy. It is also a step change for CPC which started with one site in 2011 and now manages 24 installations and about a megawatt of installed capacity all held in common ownership.”
Paul Martin of The Low Carbon Society said, “We are really pleased to have lent Community Power Cornwall the money to buy West Country Renewables and very grateful for the credit facility extended by Cornwall Council that allows us to support community ownership of energy assets. We made our first loan in 2010 and since then we have lent over £3m and have borrowed £2.66m from Cornwall Council. Each and every pound borrowed repays the loan principal and pays interest on top. What is most exciting is that each loan creates social and environmental benefits for the people of Cornwall. The projects we have funded have saved money for local schools and local charities, provided funding for affordable housing, bought a defibrillator for a village, paid for low cost LED lighting and Christmas lighting, contributed to keeping public toilets open and have paid for a new roof on a village hall to name but a few. These loans have funded 1.6 megawatts of installed capacity and have helped keep millions of pounds in the Cornish economy.”
Emma Bridge of Community Energy England said, “The acquisition of West Country Renewables by Community Power Cornwall demonstrates how communities are innovatively evolving business models to acquire existing private assets thereby increasing the community value of generation projects. We applaud the hard work undertaken by Community Power Cornwall and the support given by Cornwall Council and hope this can inspire other communities and local authorities to do similar across the UK.”
Bob Edgerton, Cornwall Council Cabinet Member for Planning and the Economy said, “Community energy is an important part of the devolution deal we have with government and I’m very pleased that the support provided by Cornwall Council with its £2.5 million loan fund for community-run renewable energy projects has played a part in this achievement.”
“I would like to congratulate everybody, many of whom are volunteers, for making this initiative such a success and I look forward to seeing how it develops in the future.”
Neil Farrington, of Community Power Cornwall said: "We’re thrilled West Country Renewables is now community-owned. It shows the power of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make their communities and local businesses stronger.”
“Not only are we generating home-grown clean energy, we’re keeping it in Cornwall and we’re maximising the value of projects by employing local people. This community ownership is happening thanks to the dedication and determination of a few individuals. I would encourage everyone to join this quiet revolution, get involved in your local group, become a supporter or volunteer, because this is a story of true local empowerment with green community projects run by the community, for the community.”