WHAT are believed to be the UK’s first community-owned solar power plants to be sited at hospitals will be built in Warwick and Stratford-on-Avon, it was announced this week.
And local people will be able to play a part in the installation of the 70 kilowatt plants – and support other environmental projects in the county – by investing in the initiative.
The group behind the scheme, Community Energy Warwickshire, is a community benefit society – a form of co-operative.
Established in 2010, the group’s eight unpaid directors include retired engineers, an experienced project manager and an accountant.
Community Energy Warwickshire is planning to issue Community Shares for sale to the public in July. People with an interest in the project will be able to invest up to £20,000 each to help achieve the project target – estimated at around £250,000.
Community Shares are a new kind of share issue. Rather than turning to financial institutions for funding, groups raise capital by seeking investment from their local community.
Community Share issues are being used all over the UK to save village shops and pubs from closure and to finance new community assets such as renewable energy projects.
The financial rewards for investors in Community Energy Warwickshire will be modest, because the bulk of the profits generated from the plants will be ploughed back into smaller projects to help people in Warwickshire to lead greener lives.
Company secretary Barbara Cooper explained: “We will be using surpluses to seed-corn community activities to encourage people to be more energy efficient and reduce their energy use cutting their bills and their carbon footprints at the same time.
“We aim to offer every investor the opportunity to benefit from practical energy-saving advice and from deals and discounts on green products and services – anything from low-energy lightbulbs to home insulation and solar panels for their own roofs.
“In rural areas of Warwickshire, a lot of communities are not connected to the gas mains and people rely heavily on expensive imported oil for heating. We’d like to work with them on things like oil-buying clubs, which can save people money and reduce delivery miles, and in the longer term help communities to investigate sustainable alternatives like biomass and heat pumps.”
Thanks to the group’s co-operative status, the directors are getting help with business and financial planning from Coventry and Warwickshire Co-operative Development Agency, funded by the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, while the national charity Carbon Leapfrog is organising pro-bono professional advice with legal agreements and marketing.
Being a co-operative, said Barbara, also creates a sense of trust among potential investors. “People are reassured that we are not a huge utility company in disguise, but that we are local people who want to invest in the future of our community and our environment.
“And we’re putting our money where our mouth is – the first phase of the project will be funded from capital already put into the business by the existing shareholders. We’ll start by putting solar panels on the roof of the John Turner Centre at Warwick Hospital – right in the middle of the public car park where visitors can see it and hopefully be encouraged to get involved!”
Both of the hospitals are operated by South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, which will be able to buy electricity at a discount from the co-operative.
And the group believes its solar plants will be a UK first. “There are several examples of community-owned solar schemes being installed at schools, but we think we’re the first to bring a community-owned energy project to a busy general hospital,” said Barbara.
For more information about investing in Community Energy Warwickshire, log on to www.cew.coop, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01789 290736.
For more information about setting up a business or community organisation that is a co-operative, log on to the Co-operatives West Midlands website at www.cooperatives-wm.coop
Co-operatives Fortnight 2011, the national campaign which unites the co- operative sector, takes place from 25 June to 9 July 2011 with the theme Yours to Share.