Southill Solar

Southill Solar in a nutshell

So - we put up a solar farm. For 25 years, it generates enough green electricity to power 1,100 homes. While it's up, we manage the land almost like a nature reserve - wildflowers, habitat for rare British plants and animals. It also generates about about £30,000 a year for local community projects. Then, when 25 years are up, we dismantle it, recycle what we can and return the land to its former state.

What's not to love?

Invest now - look for the SCE share offer on the Ethex website - and we can make this happen.

Have a look at the numbers

The great British move to local, renewable energy

Als Vowles, technical lead on Southill Solar, explains how energy generation in the UK is changing - and why she's taken a year off work to get Southill Solar up and running.

Occasionally when I have time to breathe, I ask myself whether I am crazy.

I have just taken a year off work, with the pressures that this brings, plus three small children to juggle.

Instead of earning a living, and with a team of other passionate locals, I am trying to get the Southill Solar farm built so that we have our own community power station. This, I believe, will really make a difference…

The youngest Southill Solar supporter (and newest member of Als's family!)

The youngest Southill Solar supporter (and newest member of Als's family!)

This will really make a difference

Back in 2001, I came away from a degree in Geology with two pieces of information that made me hell-bent on joining the UK’s renewables revolution. The first was that man-made climate change was real and a huge threat to our planet, seen in ice core measurements from Antarctica. The second was that the disposal of nuclear waste will leave an ugly legacy for future generations and that there is no safe place to store it.

Living in the UK, with such vast and varied renewable energy resources – wind, wave, tidal, solar and wood – I wanted to be part of this huge shift towards local and sustainable green power.

The massive uptake in UK renewables

A few years later, as an employee of one of the big 6 energy suppliers in the UK, a German colleague presented the vision of shifting our energy generation away from a few large scale centralised power stations, to local decentralised community energy generators as was happening across northern Europe.

His presentation was inspirational, but was hit by a wave of negativity from people in the room who believed that our system in the UK was too ingrained to attempt this change.

Forwarding 10 years to 2015, what a different story this is.

In 2005, just 4% of our electricity was from renewable sources and now in 2016, we are looking at more than 20%. This massive uptake in UK renewables has had significant implications in the way that our electricity networks are managed. New tools and technologies are arriving thick and fast to address these changes and make a much smarter power grid.

Renewable energy is going to win – communities will be self-sufficient in green power

We are now at an energy crossroads in the UK. On the one hand, power is being pumped out from large fossil fuel and nuclear power stations and on the flipside, power is coming from smaller green generators dotted all around the UK. If we could pin down for certain which way the UK was going to leap, it would help us vastly in the implementation of new systems to manage our energy supply effectively.

It all seems obvious to me though, that despite current Government policies, local power is gaining ground. With the new generation of battery storage led by serious players in the market, renewable generation is going to win and communities will eventually become self-sufficient in green power.

Southill Solar – our own green power

This is why I am working so hard to create Southill Solar, a community owned solar farm next to my home town of Charlbury, in Oxfordshire, led by Southill Community Energy. We have the opportunity to have our own green electricity resource which will power 1,100 households in our rural area and which we should be able to link directly to local people’s own power use in the not too distant future.

Join us – be an investor-member

We are looking for investors to take a share of this scheme and own it. Returns are good and the investment is good with all of the income being recycled back into the local area to be spent on more community environmental projects. 

This is surely a magnificent flagship project for local green energy generation, made all the more exciting in that it is in David Cameron’s own constituency – and following on from all of his Government’s cuts, it will be one of the last solar farms in the UK for now.

Southill Solar - the story so far...

SCE director Tim Crisp tells us what inspired him to try and build a community solar farm.

Tim Crisp says: "Investing in Southill Community Energy is a triple bottom-line investment: good for the environment, good for the community and good financial sense."

Tim Crisp says: "Investing in Southill Community Energy is a triple bottom-line investment: good for the environment, good for the community and good financial sense."

In 2006, inspired by a community hall showing of Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, I joined my local sustainability group, Sustainable Charlbury, in my home town of Charlbury. The group had been set up by Liz Reason, an energy consultant with over 30 years experience and now specialising in sharing knowledge and skills for low energy buildings. We organised Open Eco-home days, films, a light bulb library, thermal imaging of homes and visits to solar farms.

It was our visit to the solar farm at Westmill near Swindon that proved to be a turning point and I suggested to Liz that we should broaden our ambitions and develop our own solar farm to serve our local community.

The team 

Fortunately we found a supportive partner on our doorstep! Lord Rotherwick of the neighbouring Cornbury Park Estate, himself a keen advocate of achieving energy independence in the UK, suggested an ideal site, south facing and close to an electricity substation.

Generous support was then given by Low Carbon Hub, providing technical advice and seed money for some initial set-up activities; these were vital to getting the project off the ground. We felt part of something and were given the confidence to push on. Amazingly, in no time, we managed to form a project team of experienced and skilled volunteers from within the town of Charlbury.

Als Vowles came on board as technical expert - Southill Solar will have the benefit of her years of experience in the sector, including working in the team that developed some of the UK's first large-scale solar farms (9 solar parks built in 2011 alone!) Als currently works with Low Carbon Hub.

Charlie Clews, a landscape architect, drew up designs for a sensitive layout of the solar panel arrays whilst Dr Guy Parker, a leading ecologist in solar farm development, advised on planting proposals to increase the biodiversity of the site. Local heritage consultant Jody O’Reilly came forward offering her advice. We were also the first community group to receive the RCEF grant to support feasibility studies for community energy projects.

The turning point: Bring Your Brolly Day

Community engagement was vital to enlisting support for the project and a survey was handed out to the 1600 households in Charlbury, Finstock and Fawler. A 20% return of these demonstrated great enthusiasm for the project.

The planning application was submitted early in 2014 but turned down on the grounds that the ‘visual impact of the solar farm outweighed the benefits’.

Whilst disappointed we were undeterred and came up with the idea of a ‘Bring Your Brolly Day’ to try to address this issue of visual impact.

For me this has been one of the greatest highlights of the project. 100 enthusiastic members of our community joined us on the site with umbrellas to be photographed along a reduced number of grid lines to show how the solar panels would look at various vantage points around the site. Charlie Clews produced visual maps to demonstrate that a reduction in the number of panels along with moving them to the lower slopes of the field significantly reduced the visual impact of the solar farm.

@@Investing in Southill is good for the environment and community and good financial sense@@

Ecological and biodiversity benefits were expanded upon with the proposal to rebuild stone walls, improve hedgerows and plant wild flower meadows and orchards.

Importantly the project would also generate community benefit funds to help with improving the energy performance of new and existing community buildings.

Planning approval was granted in July 2015 and pre-application for the Feed-in-Tariff was submitted just 3 weeks before these were removed due to the change in government subsidy. It definitely felt like we were on a solar roller coaster.

With the downs came the ups. In November 2015 Charlie Clews and the Southill project won an award for Local Landscape Planning at the National Landscape Institute Awards.

The investment opportunity

Southill Community Energy was set up as a community benefit group in November 2015 so that members could be offered the opportunity to join the project and invest. The share offer was launched on February 17th to raise £3,000,000 to fund the installation of the solar farm this summer.

Join us - help us make it happen!

Investing in Southill Community Energy is a triple bottom-line investment: good for the environment, good for the community and good financial sense.

It offers a good stable return of 5% for 25 years beating anything on offer from the banks right now. With a minimum investment of £250, this is a great chance to do something to provide for your retirement, a child’s future or just a rainy day.

Our ambition has been to produce an exemplar community solar farm model, one that a community can call it’s own. Southill Solar would have been impossible without the level of community involvement and support that we have achieved.

Southill Solar makes national news

Southill Community Energy has made a real breakthrough with this morning's article in The Times newspaper which gives our campaign important national exposure:

The Times, Saturday 5 March

The Times, Saturday 5 March

As only 1 of a handful of community-owned solar schemes in the whole country it could belong to you. So what will Southill Community Energy do?

  • Creation of clean renewable energy on your doorstep - enough to power 1,100 homes almost equivalent to the energy needs of Finstock, Fawler and Charlbury, saving 2,372 tonnes of CO2 every year

  • Profits from the scheme to be ploughed back into the local communities estimated to be £30,000 annually

  • Promoting biodiversity on and around the site

  • 5% return on your shares when you choose to join with a minimum investment of £250

  • Feel good factor of owning shares in something local and ethical, our communities have the first priority to purchase shares, don't miss out!

This is a once in a life-time opportunity to be part of joining your local community renewable energy scheme, let's make it happen.

Please join us now - buy shares through Ethex.