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Southill Community Energy

What they do

Southill Community Energy is a Community Benefit Society set up to generate electricity from renewable sources, to reduce energy demand, and to invest in other projects that will reduce the community’s carbon emissions.

The project

This is Southill Community Energy's (SCE) first share offer which is looking to raise up to £3 million towards funding a 4.5MW ground-mounted solar farm on land adjacent to the B4022 between Charlbury, Finstock and Fawler in Oxfordshire.

The project had planning permission granted on 6th July 2015 and has been pre-accredited with Ofgem which means that the Feed-in-Tariff for the project is fixed for 20 years at the current level (4.49p/kWh).

The Southill Solar site is between Charlbury, Finstock and Fawler in a 20 hectare (45-acre) south-facing field. The solar farm has been designed to follow the contours of the field and to respect the stone wall running vertically down its centre.

Terms have been agreed with the landowner who has at all times supported the community and its needs. He has agreed to allow the Society to use the remainder of the field to enhance the landscape and biodiversity.

The site is just inside the boundary of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but the location, design and new hedging are all designed to minimise its visuial impact, including from nearby public footpaths. The site is not classified as an area of flood risk.

Southill Community Energy

History

Chelworth solar project

Sustainable Charlbury (SC) was formed in 2006 as a local response to the growing threat of climate change. Its aim was to inspire, encourage and empower groups and individuals within the community to reduce their carbon emissions by offering support and practical advice, organising events and meetings and providing a forum for active discussion.

But the Sustainable Charlbury members wanted to do something more concrete to make a difference. And that is how the idea of Southill Solar was born: to generate enough electricity to meet the equivalent of local demand. Then they would have visible and tangible evidence of their intention to reduce emissions. The idea began to take shape.

In 2013, SC were the first community-led scheme to be awarded a grant under Defra’s Rural Community Energy Fund to allow SC to undertake a full feasibility study.

One of SC biggest challenges was that Charlbury is in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and that they would meet opposition to their planning application from conservationists. So SC worked with their landscape architect to design a scheme that looked very different from that which a conventional developer would create. Nevertheless, the projects first application in May 2014 was refused on the grounds of visibility.

Never ones to give up, SC decided to prove that the scheme could be designed to reduce its visibility to acceptable limits. And this is where they could draw on community support. Over 100 people attended their Bring Your Brolly Day to help us demonstrate that the scheme could be re-designed to install panels nearer to the bottom of the slope. This innovative idea with what proved to be an influential outcome was recognized at the Landscape Institute Awards in November 2015.

SCs revised application was approved, with councillors impressed by the significant community support and the community benefit that SC volunteered. Planning permission was granted at the committee meeting on 6th July 2015.

Southill Community Energy was born

Sustainable Charlbury set up Southill Community Energy community benefit society so that they could offer members the opportunity to join and invest for returns in Southill Solar and get involved in the wider project of reducing the community’s carbon emissions.

Read more about SCE on the Ethex blog

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