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UK’s Biggest Community Energy Company Switches On New Solar Farm

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Lawrence Weston Solar Farm - BEC Mayor of Bristol BCC Ambition LW

Community energy stepped up and delivered the best month ever for the sector, raising £12.8m last November. During the great energy rush of that month the race was on for energy cooperatives with projects already set up to be eligible for EIS tax relief needing to be pushed through before any unforeseen changes to community renewable energy tax relief in the Finance Bill.

In tandem with this, solar community projects had to move quickly to ensure that they could complete planned projects despite the sudden and dramatic digression of Feed-in-tariff (FiT) rates. Again, community energy is fighting back with the number of bencomms projects surging.

£10m fund-raise in the heart of the community

Bristol Energy Cooperative found itself right in the heart of these changes, starting a challenging £10m fund-raise back in October 2015 before the end of EIS, and racing to raise this total before the FiT pre-registration deadlines. We are now in August finishing off the last few smaller installations and can now safely say that we have made it!

Our community energy success does seem part of a wider momentum around the world to increase participation in the transition to local, clean energy generation. £10 million is a huge step up for us (to put it in context we raised around £250,000 in our first two share offers together).

COP 21’s climate agreement (though we would have liked more) was a major step in the right direction. The debate certainly pushed the financial dangers of climate change into the mainstream with warnings from the World Bank, while the opportunities of positive investments in renewables were espoused by top corporate leaders including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Crowdfunding via the positive investment platform Ethex raised £3.5m for our solar projects. We offered two options for investment: a share offer with 5% anticipated returns and bond offers (2 and 3 year) with 6% anticipated returns. Debt finance from banks and several other institutions made up the balance. The low £50 minimum share offer investment aims to widen the opportunities for participation in community-owned energy.

The investment is already working for the benefit of the community and the environment, as well as bringing financial returns to investors. We developed a new 4.2 MWp solar farm at Lawrence Weston in Bristol, bought a commercially developed 4.6 MWp solar farm in Somerset, near Hinkley Point, and are installing solar panels on community roofs across Bristol.

So how did we make this happen?

 

The power of partnerships
Our new solar farm at Lawrence Weston in Bristol is a powerful demonstration of how a community energy co-op, local people, and both corporate and local authority partners can come together to participate in the renewables revolution.

Since our formation in 2011, we’ve been developing sustainable partnerships, and this time we extended those relationships. For this particular project at Lawrence Weston, Bristol City Council, Social and Sustainable Fund and Triodos Bank provided debt finance to help ensure that we made the FiT deadline.
We had already worked in partnership with Bristol City Council on a community solar rooftop programme. Community energy is a winner for councils up and down the country, struggling with funding cuts but still facing low carbon targets; it helps to meet these targets, lowers energy costs and involves the community to take ownership of energy generation.

The site in Lawrence Weston which sits in a narrow strip of land between two motorways was transformed into an operational solar farm with just an eight week build time. The associated benefits to the local economy as well as furthering the transition to clean, green energy will last much longer.
Local partner, Ambition Lawrence Weston, a community-led regeneration organisation, will along with other local groups benefit from a Community Energy Fund derived from surplus profits. With current generation capacity Bristol Energy Coop’s projects are projected to put more than £4m into this fund over the next 25 years. We anticipate this sum increasing as more generating capacity is installed and that projects funded by it will themselves hasten the transition to greater energy sustainability.
The Bristol effect
But the work is really just beginning. Ultimately, we aim to reduce carbon emissions and help our home city of Bristol reach its zero carbon target well before 2050.

Bristol has a deserved reputation for being independent and doing things differently. In fact, our share offer investors could go the extra mile in keeping it local, by investing in our share offer in the local currency, Bristol Pounds. At a grassroots level, we were one of the 850 organisations in the Bristol European Green Partnership which formed the driving force in helping the city become European Green Capital in 2015. The sheer ambition of our fund-raise certainly built on the buzz of the green capital year with a strong will to leave a lasting legacy for the city.

Indeed Bristol and nearby Bath are now firmly on the map as a key area for ethical investments which offer environmental and social benefits as well as attractive financial returns. In April, we became the UK’s largest generator of energy by capacity, and were more than happy to be overtaken by fellow cooperative Bath and West Community Energy (BWCE) as they add more community-owned capacity to the National Grid.

 

Community energy – supply and demand
So, what’s next? In terms of energy generation we aim to continue increasing our capacity, not only in solar, but in other technologies as the business opportunities arise. Taking it a stage further, community energy could be about to transform the nature of energy supply in the UK. Along with partner community organisations we are aiming, following a controlled market entry period starting in the autumn, to be part of a new energy supply business launch in spring 2017. It will sell energy direct from community-owned renewables projects like ours with competitively priced tariffs for customers. This is an exciting development as it will bring more control over the whole energy cycle with potential for more efficient and locally beneficial energy use.

Our membership has more than doubled during our latest fund-raise and we now have over 800 members and investors. And we’re in good company with the latest Co-operatives UK Economy Report showing that between 2012 and 2016 the number of UK community energy coops rose from 83 to 224, with membership increasing from 10,828 to 16,880 and turnover almost doubling from £4.9m to £8.9m.

This clearly illustrates strong interest in making the transition to renewables as the way to power cities and communities. At Bristol Energy Cooperative we believe this transition should happen more quickly than the current speed of change that government policy is driving. We also believe that rapid transition to a more sustainable energy economy is perfectly possible and we aim to continue demonstrating this through growing our business.

We have created an infrastructure that allows individuals, business and other organisations to benefit in the short term whilst contributing to this longer term energy transformation; so essential for our future sustainability and resilience. And we encourage more people to come aboard.

A more supportive national policy framework would be helpful and Bristol Energy Cooperative will continue to campaign and lobby for this alongside initiatives such as Climate Coalition’s week of action in October. For us, the work goes on to mobilise the power of community.

 

Energy

Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis

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Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/nivens

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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Energy

What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?

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Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/sdecoret

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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