Westmill Solar

Who benefits

Westmill Solar Co-operative brings benefits to its members, the local community and the environment. The solar park has consistently generated more clean, green renewable energy than was forecast at the time of the initial share offer and this pattern was repeated in 2016. The Society is committed to ensuring that Westmill remains a pioneer in community energy, inspiring and supporting other organisations that share the co-operative vision of the sector and broader concerns about climate change.

Community-owned renewable energy projects are not new, but Westmill solar is the first such solar park project. Community energy schemes are widespread in Europe, and in Germany 25% of all renewable energy is owned by community projects. A similar proportion is community owned in Denmark, and both countries have a larger share of renewable energy generation than in the UK. For example, in Denmark almost each town or village has its own community owned renewable energy project, including an 82 MW offshore wind farm that is co-operatively owned.

In the UK, pioneer projects such as Westmill wind farm (located next to the solar park) have shown that the model is successful here too and creates numerous benefits for investors and communities. Most UK schemes have mostly been wind farms. Westmill Solar has taken this model into a new technology by creating the country’s first, and the world’s largest, community-owned solar farm.

The Society's members

The Co-operative has 1,517 members, 15% of which live within 7km of the site. 57 % are from within 40km or are members of another co-operative.

Members receive an annual return providing an indirect benefit to the local economy, rather than the returns going to a big private company.

Member engagement is an important aspect of the Co-operative’s governance and ideas , comments and assistance from members are always welcome. Recent input from members helped to develop proposals on community fund payments initiated by the members’ working group after the 2015 AGM, with nearly one third of members responding to the proposals which were circulated in December 2016.

Renewable energy generation

In 2016 the solar plant generated 5,080 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity, the equivalent consumption of 1,639 households. This was 15% higher than the P50 forecast output of 4,422MWh (on which the projections set out in the share offer document were based) and similar to the 5,072 MWh generated in 2015.

This amount of generation means that each of Westmill's 1,517 members can take credit for 3,348 kWh of carbon-free electricity. Or, put another way, members who use the 3,100 kWh typical medium consumption of a UK household have effectively off-set all of their carbon emissions from their electricity usage.

The local community

As well as offering local people the opportunity to share in the direct rewards of the project, the solar farm provides a number of associated benefits for the area. These include boosting the local economy by making sure the profits stay in the area, encouraging visitors and raising the local area’s profile.

Research shows that community owned renewable energy projects deliver a host of benefits over conventional industry owned projects, and Westmill believe it is right that the community share in the benefits of a significant local project – so the Society made it as easy as possible for as many people as possible, from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible, to invest. Westmill also believe ownership should be equitable – so no matter the level of investment, each member has the same number of votes at each year’s AGM (though there is no obligation to take part in these).

As part of this community commitment the co-operative makes an annual contribution to a community fund, like WeSET (Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust), a local charitable organisation.

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