Bristol Energy Cooperative has recently raised the bar and aspirations for community energy projects, by bringing clean power to around 2400 homes.
Andy O’Brien, Co-Director of the co-op, said: “With the completion of our latest projects we have 9MWp of renewable capacity, making us one of the UK’s largest generators of community energy. And the great thing is that similar community energy schemes are happening across the UK. This is a fast-growing and essential part of the UK’s energy mix.”
“We know from experience that a little bit of seed-funding combined with committed volunteers can lead to exciting community initiatives.”
Andy O’Brien, Bristol Energy Coop
The pathway towards setting up a successful cooperative is about building knowledge, experience, skills and contacts.
Andy’s introduction to climate change issues came through his membership of Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement). “I’d previously been involved with a number of WDM campaigns on third world issues, and it was one of the first organisations to start taking climate change seriously. I felt that I had to get involved.”
So Andy dropped his working week to four days, and used the free time to set up a local sustainability group in the area of Bristol where he lived. Through this he met people from similar groups across the city who wanted to make greener, positive changes, and together they formed the co-op.
Bristol Energy Co-op’s first community share offer for roof-top solar raised £120,000, and allowed the group to take a project from start to finish with the help of community investors. A second similar share offer followed.
But it was then time to scale up.
How the Lawrence Weston was won
An ambitious project was identified: an under-used space in Lawrence Weston, Bristol. The area has already seen wind energy projects pop up due to the coastline proximity, but the area was also prime for large-scale solar schemes.
A site on land owned by Bristol City Council had been identified, and initial plans were being drawn up. After discussions with the local community and the council, it was agreed that the solar farm would progress as a community scheme.
“One of the elements that the council was impressed with was that we had already completed the two share offers which included solar panels on council-owned buildings. This paved the way for us to work together with a focus on outcomes and the community.
“As the site is so large, the council has also invested. We used Mongoose Energy to manage the build-out, due to their experience working with similar community groups.”
One of the co-op’s aims is to be able to help the local community where the solar farm is built. Part of the income from the generated electricity will feed directly into local scheme Ambition Lawrence Weston – a resident-led action group with a 10-year plan to bring jobs and skills to the area.
“We are also developing a wider community fund, which organisations can apply to for help with their own projects. We know from experience that a little bit of seed-funding combined with committed volunteers can lead to exciting community initiatives.”
Triodos Bank provided project finance for the construction and operation of a new 4.3MWp ground mounted solar project in connection with Bristol Energy Cooperative, Bristol City Council, Severn Community Energy One CIC and Mongoose Energy Limited.
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