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



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.



Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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