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



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.

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 or contact Ethex on 01865 403 304 or by email at or go direct to the Orchard Community Energy website:  

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.



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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