Exclusive Interview: Penny Shepherd MBE, Chair of Orchard Community Energy

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Penny Shepherd

Penny was Chief Executive of London Sustainability Exchange and the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association and worked for 20 years in information technology. Her MBE is for services to sustainable economic development and socially responsible investment and she is a Freeman of the City of London. She also chairs the external sustainability panel of a major building materials company and is involved with various initiatives supporting

 

In 140 characters or less – what is Orchard Community Energy? 

Orchard Community Energy is delivering Kent’s first major community energy project. Its 3-year, 5.5% bond launched on Sept 14. www.orchard.coop

What was the driver for creating Orchard Community Energy – what gap did it fill? 

Granted planning permission in 2014 and now completely up and running, the 5 MW Orchard Farm solar array in Iwade village is one of the first community-owned solar projects in Kent. £3.8 million has already been raised towards its purchase thanks to secured loans and equity, but now Orchard Community Energy, is raising a further £1.8 million towards the £6 million needed to finance the project. The bond was launched on 14th September.

Who does it primarily serve? 

Until now, Kent investors keen on the community energy model have not had such a large scale local project available for their investment. This puts clean energy in community ownership on the map for Kent.

What difference does Orchard Community Energy want to make? 

“This bond offer is a great opportunity for people in Kent to help to develop locally owned, renewable energy. As well as a return of 5.5% a year for three years, those who invest will have the satisfaction of helping to reduce the impact of climate change, strengthen local energy supplies and improve energy security here.

And not only does Orchard Community Energy deliver healthy financial, social and environmental returns to investors, it builds a community fund for distribution to local community projects. Over the 25 year life-time of the solar farm, the community fund will reach an estimated total of £3 Million.

What are the barriers to making that difference? 

Ever-changing government policy on renewables and on community ownership; a complex story, with many facets that are new to people and need explaining and peoples’ natural and understandable suspicion of things that sound “too good to be true” are all barriers to making things happen. In general, once people have made their first investment and begin to see the outcome of their investments, they become far more comfortable and enthusiastic about the model.

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers? 

Mongoose Energy Ltd brings together expertise and experience from across the UK and its brave vision of enabling community energy projects has enabled the Orchard Board to be established and has guided us through the process of acquisition. We have been fortunate to pull on past successes and to feel in safe hands when it comes to navigating some of the many policy changes that have been taking place.

In addition, finding local support and growing that support has meant that we are starting to build a large swathe of people with a wide range of expertise and experience. This helps us raise awareness through committed community energy ambassadors.

Is the government doing enough to community energy projects in the UK? 

Orchard Farm solar array has pre-accredited to receive the Feed in Tariff (FiT), a government incentive, which is linked to the rate of inflation, that provides financial support to the project for a period of 20 years. The new department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy has welcomed the project and we are delighted that the Secretary of State Greg Clark is a Kent MP.

Community Energy is also about helping communities gain control over their energy bills. BEIS is supporting this in Kent and elsewhere through its Big Energy Saving Network (BESN), where energy champions help vulnerable consumers switch energy bills. This has a clear synergy with the Orchard Community Energy community fund.

How can people – individuals and organisations – find out more about Orchard Community Energy? 

Please visit www.ethex.org.uk or contact Ethex on 01865 403 304 or by email at [email protected] or go direct to the Orchard Community Energy website: www.orchard.coop  

What are the Community Benefits

We estimate that the Orchard Farm solar array will provide at least £10,000 per annum in its first five years of operation for distribution to community projects in Swale and Medway. This amount will increase substantially in the later stages of the project. We expectto deliver a community fund of up to £3 million over 25 years. Criteria for eligible projects supported through the community fund may include wildlife conservation, climate change mitigation, carbon reduction (e.g. local food, low carbon transport, waste projects and reduction of fuel poverty.