A unique opportunity for Swindon residents to co-invest with Swindon Borough Council in a local solar farm that will generate a return and funding for community projects over the next 20 years will be considered by the council’s cabinet on Wednesday 10 February.
If approved, the Swindon Community Solar Farm project would be the first of its kind in the UK to allow residents to invest directly in Council Solar Bonds for a minimum stake of just £5.
Sixty-five per cent of the profits from the solar farm would go towards local community initiatives, with the remaining 35% to investors and the Council. Subject to final approval by the Cabinet, this bond is expected to have an estimated 6% effective rate of return over 20 years.
Along with the financial benefits, the solar farm – which will have a capacity of 5 megawatts (MW) – will help Swindon in its aim to install 200MW of renewable capacity by 2020, enough to meet the equivalent energy requirements of every home in the Borough. A total of 140MW has already been built or is being planned.
A Community Interest Company, wholly owned by Swindon Borough Council, would manage the solar farm. It would cost £4.8m to construct, with £3m coming from the council’s investment, and the remaining £1.8m from community investors. The bonds would be provided in partnership with Abundance Investment, which has successfully raised £15m for 16 different projects in the past three years. Abundance Investment is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
The financial details of the proposed project are being finalised but people can register their interest by visiting www.abundanceinvestment.com/swindon If approved by Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet, the investment offer is expected to be formally launched next month.
Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainability said: “For years, companies have been trying to find ways to make investing more accessible and understandable. Swindon Borough Council’s approach to solar farms means that local residents can invest as little as £5 or more than £5,000. Whether they are providing for a child’s future, their own retirement, or just for a rainy day, our approach is democratic finance in action.
“The majority of profits will fund community projects. We have the right partner in Abundance, a compelling case to show benefits to the local community, and local residents who invest should receive a better return than a normal bank saving accounts. This could be the model all councils use in the future for community investment projects.”
Bruce Davis, Managing Director, Abundance, said: “We’re really pleased to be working with Swindon Borough Council to help them achieve this genuinely innovative and exciting community investment opportunity. We expect this to be a real game-changer and provide a new model for cash-strapped local authorities to fund community projects. It’s a win for the council, a win for the community and a win for the environment.”
The solar farm will be on council-owned land at Common Farm near Wroughton and has been developed by Public Power Solutions, who structured the blend of public sector and community investment. It was given planning consent though Swindon Borough Council’s use of Local Development Orders, which speed up the planning process but still allow full public consultation.
Construction is due to begin in spring this year. The site will be managed to promote biodiversity, with the land around the panels remaining in agricultural use, with sheep grazing for part of the year.
The solar farm will generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of 1200 typical homes and save around 2000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.