Sheriffales Community Energy is a not-for-profit community benefit society, governed by local volunteer directors, owned by its members and operated to benefit the community of Sheriffhales village, with the aim of generating an income for the parish.
Located on the outskirts of the village, its 3.2MW solar farm generates 984,000 kWh of renewable electricity – enough to power 825 homes each year.
Originally commissioned in 2016 by a commercial renewable energy company, the solar farm was brought into part-community ownership within the same year, then in 2018 it received short-term investment from a social investment fund. However, the funding from Triodos now brings the solar farm into secure-long-term community ownership.
Over the past six years, the community solar array has exceeded the long-term average generations projections by 5% and is currently generating over £400,000 in revenue. With the new finance arrangements, the company expects to generate around £1 million surplus for community projects over the solar farm’s expected operating life through to 2040.
To date the community fund has provided well over £150,000 of support to local social and environmental projects, including funding food parcels during the Covid-19 pandemic, a subsidised taxi service for eligible village residents, a village hall extension and providing LED lightbulbs to every house in the parish. The funds are distributed by Sheriffhales and Community Renewable Energy Committee (SaCREC), a registered charity which is tasked to target the solar farm funds where most effective in the parish.
“Sheriffhales is now one of the few villages in the UK to own its own solar farm,” explains Peter Bonsall, chair and trustee of Sheriffhales Community Energy. “We are a rural parish with an agrarian economy – we don’t have a village pub, shop or bus.
“Bringing the solar farm into community ownership will bring an income to the parish that is more than the parish council precept. We will be using those funds to help address some of the challenges we face as a rural community, to tackle fuel poverty and other urgent village needs.”
Protecting local biodiversity and wildlife has also been a priority for the project. The land under and around the solar panels maintains species of grasses, herbs and wildflowers, while bat and bird boxes are located around the site.
Communities for Renewables, which provides company and asset management services to local energy enterprises across the country, manages the project. The organisation also has a longstanding relationship with Triodos Bank, having working worked together on solar farm finance for a number of projects, including Burnham and Weston Energy in Somerset, Ferry Farm in West Sussex and Heart of England Community Energy in Warwickshire.
Speaking about the new finance, Amandine Tetot, head of project finance at Triodos Bank UK, adds: “The solar farm at Sheriffhales has successfully been generating vital funds for the local community for over six years. It’s fantastic to support the community in now taking full ownership of the facility. Having an effective, long-term financial model in place allows community energy projects like this to maximise their surpluses and make the biggest difference to local people's lives.