Are Co-Ops the Future of Green Energy?

English community takes collective ownership of solar farm.

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Reuters

Solar power is going communal in rural England.

A group of community members about 75 miles west of London have launched a citizen takeover of a 5 megawatt solar photovoltaic array, aiming to buy it back from the financiers who helped it get built on a farmer's land a year ago. Through a share offering, the group is hoping to create the world's largest cooperatively owned solar farm.

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By the time the share sale ended July 31, more than 1,600 people had applied to become partial owners of the Westmill Solar Co-Op, raising about £4 million. The farm consists of more than 20,000 solar panels spread over 30 acres near the town of Watchfield, England. With the funds raised, the group plans to apply for loans allowing them to buy off the roughly £16.5 million farm, according to this column from the Guardian.

The solar co-op is building on the same model used in the affiliated Westmill Wind Farm, collectively owned by about 2,000 investors. The people behind the two co-ops argue that community ownership is good for locals and the economy as a whole.

Members will be entitled to a share in the profits, rather than the returns going to a big private company, therefore indirectly benefitting the local economy. The project generates clean electricity that helps fight climate change and contributes to ensuring energy security for the country, the local community are supported by annual payments to a community group.

These aren't the first cooperatively owned renewable energy farms. Others exist in places throughout the UK, as well as in the U.S. and other countries. But most are smaller operations. Westmill argues that co-ops can and should think bigger.

Adam Twine, the farmer on whose land the solar farm is sited, says that renewable energy co-ops could be the future of distributed renewable energy in the UK and beyond. "It’s not very often you have a chance to do something that is good for the environment and make money," Twine told TheBioenergySite.com. "I think this will also be of interest to many other farmers considering similar schemes."

When he originally made the deal for his land to be used as a solar farm site, Twine reserved the right to buy back the solar array from its developers. He argues that other people should try to make similar deals to enable rural communities to become financial beneficiaries of renewable energy projects.

Photo credit: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.