Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Community Energy - coming closer to Cambridge with Reach Community Solar Farm!

(This is a guest blog post by Andy Rankin, one of the people involved in setting up Reach Community Solar Farm, and also a member of the Transition Cambridge Energy Group and owner of Midsummer Energy.)

Transition is great. No-one could ever accuse people in the Transition movement of not having the very best of intentions. We all really want to move to a world that is no longer powered by fossil fuels - and we want to get there quickly! And yet, sometimes, it can feel like progress is painfully slow - and that while a great deal of talking is done, real, meaningful action is always just around the corner.

Well, no more talking - it's action time now! We have a project just on our doorstep that really is taking steps towards making the future a fossil fuel free zone. Reach Community Solar Farm is a small community energy project a few miles outside of Cambridge that is aiming to generate enough renewable electricity to power 50 houses - half of the nearby village. In the long term we hope to be able to expand the solar array so that we can produce as much electricity as the whole village uses. And after Reach, perhaps other villages will follow suit (Gamlingay already has a wind turbine) - and who knows, we might even get a community energy scheme going in Cambridge City itself! There are already moves afoot... 

Reach Community Solar Farm won't happen though without people like you. In order to build it we need to raise £360,000. That's about £350 for each panel in the solar farm. Or £7200 for enough panels to power a house. But whichever way you look at it, it's a big sum. So we need people who believe in moving to a fossil-fuel free future - and who are prepared to put their money where their mouths are. 

The good news is that we're not asking you to give your money away. Because the electricity generated by the solar farm will be eligible for feed-in tariff payments, the solar farm will have a steady income over the next 20 years - and so we can pay investors an interest payment each year on the value of their shareholding. They should also get the full value of their shareholding back when the project ends, or if they withdraw their shares earlier.

Another big benefit to investors is tax reliefs. At the moment share offers like this are eligible for EIS and SEIS tax relief schemes, which allow taxpayers to reduce their tax bill for the year in which they purchase the shares by between 30 and 50% of the value of the shares. The tax reliefs make the effective return on investment much higher - so you can be doing good with your money but still protecting your investment too.

Some money also goes to a community benefit fund each year, and we'd love to spend this if possible on other projects that have an environmental benefit. Helping other community energy projects for example might be high up the list - but as the project is Co-operatively run, it's up to the investors how the fund is spent.

The share offer for the community solar farm closes on the 17th March - so there isn't much time left, and we still have quite a bit left to raise. Do consider investing - it's good for the planet as well as your pocket! You can find out more or buy shares online at reachsolarfarm.co.uk, or through the community shares crowdfunding site Microgenious: www.microgenius.org.uk/project/reach-community-solar-farm-29.

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