Creacombe solar project set to provide 7.3MW of renewable power capacity as well as 'healthy returns' for local community, developers claim
The UK's "first" subsidy-free community solar farm has been connected to the grid in Devon, where it is set to both provide 7.3MW of clean power capacity while driving investment returns for local residents, its developers announced yesterday.
Led by Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners (CORE) alongside Yealm Community Energy (YCE), the Creacombe Community Solar Farm began construction last year after five years in development, and was completed in two stages, the groups said.
Around 4.4MW of the solar farm's capacity - which was eligible for the last remaining community feed-in-tariff subsidies on offer in the UK - was commissioned in December, while the remaining subsidy-free 2.9MW was commissioned at the end of last month, the organisations announced this week.
YCE said it now planned to launch an investment offer this summer to enable the community to invest directly in both the Creamcombe project as well as the nearby Newton Downs solar farm, which it acquired in partnership with CORE in late 2017.
Peter Brown, YCE Chair, said the two solar farms were together capable of generating enough electricity to supply the equivalent of all households across five local parishes
"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," he said. "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."
CORE, a £50m social investment partnership between financial institution Big Society Capital and charitable trust Power to Change, has previously worked on a portfolio of community solar farms, and was advised on the financing for the Creacombe project by green impact investor Environmental Finance.
André Sarvarian, associate director at Environmental Finance, said the Creacombe solar farm was "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 co-located renewables to draw from, which has required a completely different approach to structuring the project economics for standalone solar," he said. "These achievements demonstrate the economic case for subsidy-free community solar in the UK."
It follows new last week that 17 new community energy schemes in the UK capital have been granted funding through the London Mayor's Community Energy Fund (LCEF), which aims to support local groups in developing the early stage of clean energy projects.
Projects successfully securing support through the Fund include the installation of solar panels on schools in Ealing, Harrow, Camden and Catford, as well as at a golf club in Haringey. A theatre in Wimbledon, Transport for London stations and an Air Source Heat Pump scheme in Lewisham are also among those to benefit from funding, according to Community Energy London.
The developments will be seen as a boost to both the unsubsidised solar sector and the community energy market, both of which were hit hard in the wake of the government's controversial decision to axe feed-in tariff incentives and other subsidies for solar projects.
The government has argued that well located solar projects can now find a route to market given plummeting technology costs. But industry insiders have warned that while some projects are in the pipeline the refusal of the government to allow onshore renewables to compete for price support contracts is hampering the development of the sector and driving up the cost of decarbonisation for billpayers.
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