The following is a list of our most commonly asked questions. Some are specific to being a shareholder and others relate to the Solar Park or the co-operative model. If you can’t find what you are looking for then please just drop us a line at email@example.com or call us on 01367 610001.
Will my investment qualify for EIS relief?
As stated in the fund-raising prospectus of June 2012, our financial projections assumed that no EIS relief is available to members. However the Board applied for EIS relief in 2013 because we believed there was a chance that the subscription by members for shares in the co-operative might qualify, and it was our duty to explore this possibility. HMRC have since informed us that in their view members’ subscriptions do NOT qualify for EIS relief. We remain in correspondence with HMRC on this issue and hope that a final determination will have been made before the 2014 AGM.
Given recent news about the Co-operative Bank, are you comfortable with them being our bankers?
As a matter of good practice we believe it is wise to disperse our cash reserves, to reduce the risks involved in having all our funds in one place. Therefore we have recently opened an additional account with Handelsbanken and are looking at opening at least one further account. The board currently intends to keep all day-to-day banking arrangements with the Co-operative Bank, and will continue to keep the situation under review.
When will I receive my annual payment?
The interest payment for each financial year (January to December) will be made after the AGM following the relevant year-end. We therefore expect this to be in the second half of each year. For example, the interest payment for the financial year January to December 2013 will be made between July and December 2014.
Was a payment made in 2013?
No interest payment was made in 2013. As stated in the fund-raising prospectus, we planned to make our first payment after the first full year of trading. As the Co-operative only became the owner of the solar farm on 31st October 2012, the financial year 2012 only included two months of trading. The first full year of trading for the Co-operative was therefore 2013 and a payment in respect of this year is expected to be made in 2014.
Can I take my money out?
In general, shares in the Co-operative are not saleable in the same way as shares in a publicly listed company. However, under the rules of the Co-operative, members can apply to either transfer or withdraw shares. Shares can be transferred by arrangement if acceptable to the board. A limited amount may be withdrawn each year with the board’s permission, subject to any cap on withdrawals. The rules on EIS relief limit the return of capital to shareholders so the outcome of the EIS application may also affect the situation in this area.
What happens when I die?
Shares will be transferred to the personal representative of the deceased. The shares can then be transferred to any other eligible person. The person to whom the shares will be transferred can be nominated by the deceased. The board must receive proof of death and proof of nomination before such action can be taken.
How can I stay up-to-date on what is happening?
Westmill Solar Co-operative publishes the minutes of all its board meetings on our Member webpage. We also publish news stories that we think will be of interest to people interested in community renewable energy on our News webpage.
How is the Solar Park performing?
Westmill Solar Co-operative is keen that information on how the Solar Park is performing is available to everyone as an educational resource. We therefore publish performance information from the last twelve months on our Solar Park webpage.
What happens if the panels are damaged or vandalised?
Westmill Solar Co-operative has appropriate security measures in place meaning we hope that this won’t ever happen. However, should it happen we have a maintenance contract in place to rectify any problem and we are fully insured.
Can I visit the site?
Westmill Solar Co-operative would like as many people as possible to visit the site. We therefore work with the Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust (WeSET) who have a team of volunteer guides who arrange open days throughout the year. To find out when the next open day is happening please visit the WeSET website
Will you upgrade the solar park in future years as solar technology improves?
This is not currently envisaged. Any such decision would be a matter for members.
What happens to the Solar Park at the end of the project?
At the end of the 24 year project the Feed-in-Tariffs are no longer eligible, and it is assumed that the project will end. However it is possible that the solar panels are still working and generating energy and that energy prices are high enough to justify continuing to supply electricity. In this case members would be consulted as to their preference for the project and what the cooperative's future should be.
What does it mean that you are a Co-operative?
Cooperatives stand for equality. They mean one member, one vote, no matter how many shares are owned. They also mean that profits are shared by the members so when the cooperative does well, the members do well. Owning shares in Westmill Solar Co-operative automatically makes you a member of the co-operative - but there is no requirement to vote or become involved if you don’t want to. Examples of other co-operatives include the Co-operative supermarkets (which are owned by different regional co-operatives but with identical branding) and the Phone Co-operative. (Note: we are completely unrelated to The Co-operative Group).
How much money did you raise?
We raised nearly £18 million in total. £12 million of our capital is provided through a loan from the Lancashire County Council Pension Fund and £5.8million was raised in shares from individuals and the community. £4 million in this £5.8 million came from the initial share offer, which was the maximum allowed, and £1.8m via a private placement to existing subscribers. Most of the funding for the co-operative (an additional £12 million) came in the form of a loan from the Lancashire County Council Pension Fund.
Members receive an annual return providing an indirect benefit to the local economy, rather than the returns going to a big private company. The project generates clean electricity that helps fight climate change and contributes to ensuring energy security for the country. The local community benefits as a percentage of the profits go to a local community organisation involved in environmental education, sustainability and related projects in the local area.
Do local people receive a discount on energy bills as a result of involvement in the project?
Projects sometimes include discounts for all bill payers in an area, but these are often run differently, for example investing the profits made in cutting bills rather than paying members, and often do not include community ownership. Our project is a community-owned cooperatively run project, and does not offer any energy bill discounts.
Has this been done before?
The concept of community owned renewable energy has been around for many years, in the UK there are projects in Scotland, Lewes, Brighton, and Cumbria, to name a few. What’s exciting about Westmill Solar, is that it is the first large scale community owned solar farm project in the UK – but this is a logical extension of a successful model tried and tested in many countries.
Could Westmill Solar Co-operative help me set-up something similar?
Westmill Solar Co-operative has been sharing its experience with policy-makers and opinion formers to help make it easier for future community renewables. In 2013, as a result of representations from the Westmill Solar and others, the government announced that it intends to double the size of energy co-operatives that are eligible to receive Feed-in-Tariffs.
Westmill Solar is also currently exploring how its knowledge and experience could be utilised by individual community-renewable projects. Whilst individual board members try to respond to adhoc queries, the board have been looking at whether they something could be set-up so that support is more consistently available. Our Chairman, Philip Wolfe, convened a conference in Birmingham in December 2013 to look at ways of improving the co-ordination and support for community renewable energy projects and work is now progressing to establish a new body to represent the community energy sector.
If you are considering setting something similar then there are a number of organisations whom you may wish to speak to regards co-operatives and community renewables:
If, after reading these FAQs, you would still like to talk to someone about a specific aspect of Westmill Solar Co-operative then please call us on 01367 610001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org