Triodos Bank UK has provided £3 million of new senior debt which, alongside over £500,000 from a community bond offer, will help bring a solar farm in Shropshire into 100% community ownership.
Located on the outskirts of Sheriffhales village, the 3.2MW solar farm has the capacity to generate 984,000 kWh of renewable electricity – enough to power 825 homes each year. It is owned by Sheriffhales Community Energy, a not-for-profit community benefit society governed by local volunteer directors, which has been set up to generate income for the parish.
The solar park was originally commissioned in 2016 by a commercial renewable energy company. In 2016 it was brought into part-community ownership, first through Mongoose Energy, then in 2018 through short-term investment from a social investment fund. The new bank debt and community bond finance enables the repayment of this short-term loan, bringing the solar farm into secure, long-term community ownership.
Over the past six years, the community solar array has exceeded the long-term average generation projections by 5% and is currently generating over £400,000 per year in revenue. With the new finance arrangements, the company expects to generate around £1 million surplus for community projects over the solar farm’s expected operating life through to 2040.
The community fund has, to date, provided well over £150,000 of support to local social and environmental projects, including funding food parcels during the Covid-19 pandemic, a subsidised taxi service for eligible village residents, a village hall extension and providing LED lightbulbs to every household in the parish. The funds are distributed by the Sheriffhales and Community Renewable Energy Committee (SaCREC), a registered charity which is tasked to target the solar farm funds where most effective in the parish.
Peter Bonsall, chair and trustee of Sheriffhales Community Energy, said: “Sheriffhales is now one of the few villages in the UK to own its own solar farm. We are a rural parish with an agrarian economy – we don’t have a village pub, shop or bus. Bringing the solar farm into community ownership will bring an income to the parish that is more than the parish council precept. We will be using those funds to help address some of the challenges we face as a rural community, to tackle fuel poverty and other urgent village needs.”
Protecting local biodiversity and wildlife has been a priority for the project. The land under and around the solar panels maintains species of grasses, herbs and wildflowers. Bat and bird boxes are located around the site.
Amandine Tetot, head of project finance at Triodos Bank UK, said: “The solar farm at Sheriffhales has successfully been generating vital funds for the local community for over six years. It’s fantastic to support the community in now taking full ownership of the facility. Having an effective, long-term financial model in place allows community energy projects like this to maximise their surpluses and make the biggest difference to local people’s lives.”
The project is managed by Communities for Renewables (CfR) CIC, which provides company and asset management services to local energy enterprises across the country and has a longstanding relationship with Triodos Bank. The two organisations have worked together on solar farm finance for a number of projects, including Burnham and Weston Energy in Somerset, Ferry Farm in West Sussex and Heart of England Community Energy in Warwickshire.
Jake Burnyeat, director at Communities for Renewables CIC, added: “Projects like this clearly illustrate the importance of community energy, and the impact that funds generated can have for a rural community. We’ve been pleased to support the people of Sheriffhales on their journey towards full community ownership.”