It’s one thing to raise enough cash to buy a solar farm, offering a reasonable rate of return on investment … but it’s another thing to do so with SUCH a tremendous amount of public support. We are immensely grateful to everyone who helped spread the word about our share offer, everyone who stopped by to chat at one of our market or event stalls, and everyone who took the decision to invest. Thanks to this wonderful collaborative effort, we smashed our initial target of £385,000 in just 6 weeks, finishing with £590,355 invested.
If you’re thinking, “Didn’t Gower Power already own a solar farm?” you’re not alone. We did develop the 1MW solar farm at Killan Farm in Dunvant,
and we ran the share offer to move that farm into the ownership of a Community Benefit Society, but the people who bought those shares are members of Gower Regeneration, not Gower Power. We’re delighted that many of them went on to invest in Gower Power too and are now members of both these incredible co-ops.
We’re so proud to now own our own solar farm, a 5MW site at Brynwhilach, near Llangyfelach, which has been reliably producing clean, green energy since it was switched on by Good Energy in 2017.
We became interested in acquiring this solar farm in 2016, before it was built. To take that idea forward we worked with an organisation called Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE), a partnership between Big Society Capital – the UK’s leading social impact investor – and Power To Change – a trust whose mission is to strengthen communities through community business, set up in 2015 with funding from The National Lottery Community Fund.
CORE was created to move privately solar farms into community ownership. With our track record of business for good, releasing the value of natural resources for the benefit of local communities, we played an important role in supporting CORE to secure the funding they needed to purchase a portfolio of seven solar farms, including Brynwhilach. CORE worked with local people to get ready to take these farms on and run them on a not-for-profit basis, so the money they raised through energy sales could be used to fund community projects. In some places where CORE bought a solar farm, a suitable community energy organisation already existed while in others they needed to work with local people to form a new community energy organisation.
Gower Power then joined together with Wight Community Energy, Shropshire & Telford Community Energy, Kent Community Energy and Yealm Community Energy (Devon) to form a consortium called Community Energy Together. The plan was that all five societies would jointly raise enough investment through selling shares to be able to purchase the whole portfolio of CORE’s solar farms. The shares alone would not be enough to cover the purchase costs – CET would need to borrow a lot, but by working together to buy the whole portfolio, the total borrowing was much larger and the cost of borrowing was greatly reduced.
Delays with our conversion from a Community Interest Company to a Community Benefit Society meant we weren’t ready to launch our share offer until seven weeks after the others, and we feared we might not meet our target in time. We need not have worried. 228 people were inspired by this greener, fairer way of doing energy business and wanted to see electricity sold for public good rather than private profit. The average investment was just over £2.5k, with most people just wanting to get in on the action with the minimum investment amount of £250. 40% of everyone who invested had a Swansea postcode, with many of the investors from further afield having Welsh routes or some direct historical link to Swansea. About the same percentage of the investors had previously invested in other Gower Power share offers. We had some great conversations throughout the offer – it was great to hear some stories from investors both locally and further afield with fond memories, family connections or other interesting reasons for wanting to have a stake in Gower Power.
Overall, after the largest transfer of solar assets into community ownership in British history, Community Energy Together now owns one fifth of all the community-owned solar energy production in England and Wales, with 36MWp – enough to power the equivalent of 13,000 homes – under the control of these 5 enterprises. Between them they will allocate an estimated £20m to projects to support communities in their local areas. For us in Swansea, that means funds on the way for environmental improvements, biodiversity enhancements, food growing and activities which help people on low incomes access the health and well-being benefits of the outdoor life. For examples of amazing stuff we’re proud to have funded in recent years, take a look at our “Community Projects” page. We can’t wait to see more people-powered, Gower-Powered, great work rolled out across the county.
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