Britain has its first combined clean energy zone after the completion of the Westmill Solar Farm. The solar plant – itself the largest in the United Kingdom – was connected to the national power grid and, in conjunction with other solar and wind-power plants in the Oxfordshire area, will power the equivalent of 4,000 homes over the next 25 years.
Westmill’s 23,000 photovoltaic panels began supplying about 5 megawatts (MW) of power at peak output on July 20, after soaking up sun the day before, and the plant alone could supply 1,500 homes with power.
The solar plant will be at the center of the U.K.’s largest community cooperative project, which will be partially owned by residents, community members and other shareholders. In October, a share offer will allow residents and shareholders to invest anywhere between £250 and £20,000 (about $400-$32,000) for an average return rate of 10 percent over 25 years. This same idea was carried out successfully in 2007 with the Westmill Wind Farm, when £5 million ($8.2 million) was raised by 2,5oo residents to install community-owned turbines.
Westmill Solar Co-Op director Adam Twine is optimistic about the project, foreseeing a tremendous public response. “Local ownership of a solar farm in the U.K. on this scale will be a first,” he said. “We expect to be oversubscribed for the share offer as we were for a similar scheme involving the wind farm. It’s our hope that this model of local people taking positive action to address climate change and generate renewable energy effectively in their own community will be replicated across the U.K.”
Westmill Solar Farm was constructed by Blue Energy over the course of just eight weeks, and was developed by renewable energy company Low Carbon Solar.