The aims of the project are to combat climate change by financing a reliable source of renewable energy, provide local people and other investors with a stable, reliable source of income, and help the area transition to a low carbon future economy.
The project generates 4.8 GWh per year of clean electricity, enough to power 1,400 homes. That’s equivalent to every home in Watchfield & Shrivenham.
Carbon dioxide emission reductions of 2 thousand tonnes per year are also projected from the project. If you pumped this amount of carbon dioxide into a swimming pool you would need one big enough to contain the equivalent of over 3 million gallons of water!
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 we believe it is right that the community share in the benefits of a significant local project – therefore we made it as easy as possible for as many people as possible, from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible, to invest. We 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 intends to make an annual contribution to a community fund, like WeSET (Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust), a local charitable organisation.
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 cooperatively owned.
In this country, 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. In the UK, most such 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.