UK’s first post-subsidy community solar farm lights up

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THE UK’S first subsidy-free community ground-mount solar has been connected by Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners and Yealm Community Energy in Devon.

The 7.3MW Creacombe community solar farm began construction in September last year and was energised in two stages: 4.4MW, pre-accredited for the last remaining community feed-in-tariff was commissioned at the end of December, while the remaining 2.9 MW, which is subsidy free, was commissioned at the end of January.

Peter Brown, Yealm Community Energy Chair, commented on the scheme: “It is over five years since Yealm Community Energy started to explore the idea of bringing a community solar farm to this part of Devon, and we are very pleased that Creacombe has been able to navigate the ‘solarcoaster’ and is now complete and generating power.

“Both solar farms will be able to generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of all the homes in our five local parishes helping to meet our Net Zero commitments.

“Equally important, once we have completed the share offer so they are community-owned we expect to generate a healthy profit which will be spent locally to grow other exciting initiatives to tackle the climate crisis such as energy efficiency, electric vehicles and more green power generation.

“We would like to thank the people and organisations that have helped us get to this point: Gnaton Farms and the Lopes family for their support; Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners, Environmental Finance and Next Generation for helping us with the acquisition and transfer to community ownership and the EPC, Goldbeck Construction, for building the project.”

Yealm Community Energy plans to launch an investment offer this summer to enable the community to invest directly in Creacombe along with another nearby operational solar farm, Newton Downs, which was also acquired in partnership with Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners in late 2017.

Leading social and environmental impact investor, Environmental Finance, advised Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners through the development and financing.

Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners is a £50m social investment partnership between Big Society Capital and charitable trust Power to Change, whose aim is to bring solar farms into community ownership and deliver lasting local community benefits.

Over their operational lifetime, the Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners portfolio of solar farms is expected to generate a surplus of several million pounds that will be used for community benefits, such as funding projects to further decarbonise the Yealm area.

André Sarvarian, Associate Director at Environmental Finance, said: “We have been delighted to support Creacombe throughout this process.

“Having developed and managed Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners, Environmental Finance has been an integral part of the delivery and investment for Creacombe alongside supporting another 32MW of community solar over the last two years.

“Creacombe sets a leading example which can further stimulate the community energy market towards subsidy-free renewables.

“Creacombe has been developed as a standalone grid-connected project, without the benefit of any pre-existing colocated renewables to draw from, which has required a completely different approach to structuring the project economics for standalone solar.

“These achievements demonstrate the economic case for subsidy-free community solar in the UK, we have been proud to play a role in further promoting the development of clean energy projects.

“This is also a maiden project for Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners, as Creacombe marks the first new development and construction solar project we have supported, at the end of a two-year investment process.

“Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners’ portfolio is now complete with nine community solar projects totalling 40MW.”

Other than Creacombe, the other solar farms Community Owned Renewable Energy Partner has supported have been operational for a few years and are receiving subsidies.

Power to Change’s Next Generation programme is providing Yealm Community Energy and other community groups with support and grants to gain the necessary skills to launch their own community investment offers.

The Creacombe solar farm uses PV modules provided by Canadian Solar, with inverters from SMA and transformers from Netze.

EPC works were completed by Goldbeck Solar, with non-contestable and contestable grid connection works completed by WPD and Ethical Power Connections respectively.

Creacombe will be managed by Bright Renewables, a community owned renewable energy asset manager set up in 2018 with support from Community Owned Renewable Energy Partner and Power to Change.

Will Walker, Community Energy Programme Manager, Power to Change, said: “We are very proud to have played a part in the creation of the UK’s first post-subsidy community owned solar farm at Creacombe.

“Our Next Generation programme is working alongside Community Owned Renewable Energy Partner to equip all the community groups with the knowledge, skills and opportunities that they need to take ownership and develop these solar assets into successful long-term projects that deliver against local needs and priorities.

“They will bring huge benefits to their local areas, from affordable warmth projects tackling fuel poverty, to better community and cultural spaces.”