The 60,000 solar panel Heart of England Community Energy solar farm near Stratford-upon-Avon has the capacity to generate 14.7MW of electricity – enough to power around 4,500 homes. The project is unique in its combination of community ownership, solar power and battery storage, and two layers of senior and junior finance.
The solar farm is co-located with 3MW of batteries operated by a third party, meaning that the site is used both to generate clean solar energy and provide battery storage services to the grid.
The transaction was undertaken to secure long-term, lower-cost finance for the solar project, with reduced loan repayments allowing more money to be used to support community projects. The total package of £16.3 million combines senior loans of around £12 million from Triodos Bank UK with junior loans from Social and Sustainable Capital (SASC) of around £4.3 million. SASC provided capital to fund the community acquisition of the solar farm in 2016.
Heart of England Community Energy uses profits from the solar farm to support a fuel poverty advice service run by local charity Act on Energy and a community grant fund. The community grant fund has so far provided funding to Harbury e-Wheels, a Warwickshire-based community transport charity, and SolarAid, a charity working in Africa to provide solar lights.
The project is managed by Communities for Renewables (CfR) CIC, which provides company and asset management services to 50MW of community solar projects across seven localities and has a longstanding relationship with Triodos Bank. The two organisations have worked together on a previous solar farm financing for Burnham and Weston Energy in Somerset, the second largest community solar farm in the UK.
Jake Burnyeat, director at Communities for Renewables CIC, said: “CfR and the Heart of England Community Energy board are very pleased to have reached this milestone. The loans from Triodos Bank and Social and Sustainable Capital provide a long-term lower cost finance solution which will help increase surplus income generated by the community solar farm to support local projects. It is also important that the funders share our values. Look out for the community bond offer which will launch next year and give an opportunity for people from the local and wider community to get involved!”
Philip Bazin, environment team manager at Triodos Bank UK, said: “This transaction proves that community energy schemes can be delivered and financed at scale. It also demonstrates our expertise at financing solar projects co-located with batteries, and at combining different tranches of finance. Such schemes have multiple positive impacts, not only do they help the clean energy transition, but their profits also benefit local people. By driving down the cost of finance, we have helped Heart of England solar to operate more profitably and increase its financial contribution to the community.”
Krishna Chokshi, investment manager at SASC, said: “We are delighted to renew our investment in HECE, whose performance has significantly exceeded our expectations since coming into community ownership two years ago. This is a great community-owned project with an outstanding local board of trustees who are overseeing its governance and performance. HECE is providing real financial benefits for individuals and families living in fuel poverty in the region through the distribution of community benefit. Work done by HECE unlocks significant additional grants for fuel efficiency, leveraging in as much as seven times the amount of funding generated by the project.
“Community energy projects like this are essential as communities look to provider greener energy solutions and surpluses for the benefit of their local area. It is fantastic to see social investment providing finance that is enabling projects like this to thrive.”
The new finance package was handled by Triodos Bank’s business banking office in London.Legal counsels on the transaction were TLT, CMS, Michelmores and Lux Nova. Technical due diligence on the transaction was provided by Green Cat Renewables.
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Notes to editor
About Heart of England Community Energy Ltd
Heart of England Community Energy is a community benefit society which was set up to bring the benefits of community energy to the Heart of England region. It empowers local people and organisations by enabling them to invest in, control and benefit from local renewable energy generation.
The society recycles its profits back into the Heart of England area by supporting local charities and projects with a positive social and environmental impact. It also supports initiatives to tackling climate change and poverty in developing countries.
Heart of England Community Energy is an asset-locked community benefit society owned by its members, governed by local volunteer directors and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
About Communities for Renewables CIC
Communities for Renewables (CfR) CIC is a mission-led community interest company which helps communities to set up local energy enterprises and works with them to develop, finance and manage their own renewable energy generation. CfR has managed the development and financing of around £56million of community solar projects and manages 50Mw of community solar projects for 7 different community energy enterprises, including eart of England Community Energy.
About Social and Sustainable Capital
SASC provides simple finance for extraordinary charities and social enterprises. We believe greater access to the right kind of investment makes charities and social enterprises better able to tackle society's most pressing challenges. Our funds provide flexible capital to enable social sector organisations to grow their social impact, improving the lives of disadvantaged people across the UK. SASC is a social enterprise.
About Triodos Bank
Founded in 1980, Triodos Bank has become a frontrunner in sustainable banking globally. As an independent bank that promotes responsible and transparent banking, it does not see any conflict between a focus on people and the planet and a good financial return. Instead it believes that they reinforce each other in the long-term.
Triodos Bank has banking activities in the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Spain, Germany and France as well as Investment Management activities based in the Netherlands but active globally. Triodos Bank co-founded the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV), a network of 54 sustainable banks. Together these banks want to grow sustainable banking and its impact on the real economy substantially.
Triodos Bank UK Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Triodos Bank NV. Registered Office: Deanery Road, Bristol, BS1 5AS. Registered in England and Wales Company No. 11379025. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under registration number 817008. VAT reg no 793493383.