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‘The children see these solar panels every day. They see it as the norm now’



Investors have less than a month left to invest in energy co-op Gen Community’s latest share offer. The goal is to raise £880,000 to fund the installation of solar panel systems on 25 Staffordshire schools, with £400,000 of that already raised.

If successful, the project will save 7,329 tonnes of carbon dioxide and provide the schools with energy bill savings worth up to £2.8m over 20 years. Some 15,000 children will immediately benefit as a result.

The investment case is attractive, especially when compared to the average savings account or ISA. Investors are able to put between £500 and £150,000 into the project, for an annual projected return of 6.91%.

Those who claim the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) tax relief will get projected returns of 10.48%. Under an EIS scheme, investors can invest up to £1m each year and receive an initial 30% income tax relief. They will also be exempt from capital gains tax and inheritance tax.

Andy Heald, a former wealth manager in the City and now a director at Gen Community, is spearheading the Staffordshire Sunny Schools project.

Government policy will always be a risk when it comes to renewable energy investment, he says – but retrospective changes to the feed-in tariff subsidy scheme for solar photovoltaic (PV) are unlikely.

He continues, “From a project risk basis, you’ll want to see all the things in the project which you expect when installing PV on your home – warranties and insurance, and the correct sited installation. Administration of the project, and experience with projects when picking a project manager will mitigate risk.”

Pupils at Millfield Primary School, Staffordshire, watch the visual display unit linked to their school's solar PV system.

The project has been bolstered by a £200,000 secured loan from Pure Leapfrog, a charity that provides social investment to the community energy sector. The project is also featured on Ethex, an online marketplace for social investments.

Henry Exton is from the Friary School in Lichfield, a Staffordshire school that has taken the leap and become one of the first to install one of Gen Community’s solar PV systems on its roof.

He says that in his role as business manager, he had looked at solar technology previously but the school didn’t have the resources available to invest. That is, until Gen Community came along.

A few months after the installation of the panels, Exton says the school is already seeing tangible benefits, none more so than in its energy bills. To date, the PV system has generated 7,000 units of electricity, most of which will have been used on site. The Friary expects to slash around £5,000 of its annual bill.

But Exton adds that there is another benefit – less tangible, but equally vital: “Important as the financial savings are, it is just as important that we are reducing our carbon dioxide emissions and helping pupils to understand the potential of renewable energy as part of their educational experience.”

Exton’s plan is to take the solar message and integrate it into all parts of the curriculum – from maths to science, geography to philosophy.

At a recent event in Westminster hosted by Gen Community to promote the Staffordshire Sunny Schools project, he said, “It’s about more than numbers to me. The reason that I was very keen to go to our governing body and say we should do this was actually because of the impact it has on children.

That can sound a little bit naff, but it does. They see these panels every day. They see it as the norm now. Priory School has 200 panels on its roof. They expect to see that wherever they go.”

Inspiring the next generation of environmentally-conscious youngsters? Now that’s something to invest in.

Investment in Staffordshire Sunny Schools is open until April 30 2014. The share offer can be downloaded from the Gen Community website.

In accordance with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, Blue & Green Communications Limited does not provide regulated investment services of any kind, and is not authorised to do so. Nothing in this article and all parts herein constitute or should be deemed to constitute advice, recommendation, or invitation or inducement to buy, sell, subscribe for or underwrite any investment of any kind. Any specific investment-related queries or concerns should be directed to a fully qualified financial adviser.

Further reading:

Solar co-operative seeks £880,000 for Staffordshire schools project

Four Staffordshire schools set to benefit from solar co-op project

Solar co-operative gives investors a share in Plymouth’s green future

Community Energy Strategy launched to help local renewables projects

Community energy: what you need to know