energy sustainability

5 Community Energy Projects

Last year I wrote a brace of posts about community energy – the importance of community energy and 10 benefits of community energy. In the latter I promised to post some examples, so here they are. Here are five different initiatives, each using the resources available to them to serve the local community. It’s a good time to be posting this, incidentally. I wrote it last week, but I notice that the government are due to announce some new support for community energy today, so it’s unexpectedly topical.

Westmill Solar farm  AGM 2013Westmill Cooperative
On an old airfield outside Didcot stand 5 large wind turbines, each generating 1.3 MW. You wouldn’t know it driving past, but they each have names chosen by local schoolchildren. The £5.5 million cost of the community wind farm was raised by 2,374 local shareholders and it runs as a cooperative, yielding a return on investment of 8%. Despite being situated next to the mighty cooling towers of Didcot power station, the project was still vigorously opposed on aesthetic grounds by anti-wind campaigners.

Next door to the wind farm is something just as notable. After the success of the wind farm, the team then went on to set up Britain’s first (and the world’s largest) community owned solar farm.

Findhorn CHP
The Findhorn community is one of Britain’s best known eco-villages, and has a range of renewable energy technologies. The most recent is the district heating system, which pipes heat to a hall, community buildings and several houses. It’s a well chosen system that uses local assets perfectly to create renewable heat that is low waste as well as low carbon. It runs on waste wood chips from a local timber yard, and recycles the ash back into compost for use on Findhorn’s extensive food-growing projects.

Settle Hydro
Solar and wind projects are more common than hydro, but Settle Hydro has pioneered community hydro power in the face of considerable challenges. Being the first, feed in tariff administrators and other energy bodies had no experience of community hydro power, and progress was slow and difficult. The set-up was new, but the technology itself was not – Settle Hydro’s reverse Archimedean screw uses the original mill race of an old Yorkshire watermill.

Islay Energy
If you want to watch a project in its fundraising stages, take a look at Islay. Following in the footsteps of neighbouring islands, this Scottish community recently launched a share offer in a 330KW turbine that will provide energy to around a quarter of the island. Investors will get a flat return of 4%, with additional profits going into a community pot to fund further renewable energy projects, help with efficiency measures and so on. They raised just over £150,000 in 48 hours.

Low Carbon West Oxford
This project has two wings – a charity and an Industrial and Provident Society. The latter, West Oxford Community Renewables, uses grant applications and share issues to raise money for wind, solar and hydro projects. The energy produced is sold to the owners of the building, with the surplus sold into the grid. The sale of that extra power funds the charity wing, Low Carbon West Oxford, which undertakes local carbon cutting projects.

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