Reliable coordinators in some neighborhood appear to have assisted construct the impetus behind the fundraising
A hydro project to produce electrical power at a weir on the Thames in Oxford almost £300,000 from 95 shareholders, three-quarters who reside in Oxford, within 2 weeks of opening its offer. Just a couple of weeks ago, the community of South Brent in Devon financed a huge wind turbine pretty much fully with local money.
Green energy projects properties of neighbourhoods - long discussed as a means to lessen pollutants, reduce bills and bring people with each other - are beginning to boost significant sums of money.
Saskya Huggins, among the volunteers that has organised the Osney hydro project in Oxford, said "when you have the opportunity such as this that helps tackle a significant global issue, albeit in a small way, and boosts significant finances for your own community, you grab it with both hands."
Both projects share numerous functions. Both had a primary group of absolutely dedicated volunteers like Huggins doing work for several years to take the work to being. The Osney hydro plant has been in development for more than 10 years. South Brent's team got planning permission three years ago but took until the late 2012 before being able to start fundraising.
Within both sites, the coordinators and organizers are very well known and trustworthy in their neighborhood. This appears to have served build the impetus behind the fundraising.
Charlotte Robinson, among the Osney Hydro investors, mentioned: "When I came to Oxford 10 years ago, this idea was reported in the local newspaper and I loved it, but I couldn't see how such a big project could happen in such a small area. So I've been thinking about this for a decade, and was determined not to miss the boat. This sort of action gives me hope that a climate change revolution really is possible, even for non-leaders like me, by doing things from the bottom up and locally. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to take part."
Edward Chapman, among the Devon coordinators, in fact discouraged promotion beyond the area, stating he wished to make certain as much money as possible has come from men and women living near the turbine.
He stated about how quick publicity for share issue had galvanised a lot more assistance from local residents. "The team of volunteers who assembled after the first open meeting back in January did an amazing job - the village was covered in banners and posters and they opened the 'pop-up' shop for a week."
The two plans independent of each other chose to provide investors a yearly return of approximately 4% on their investment. This results in big surpluses intended for local schemes to lessen fuel poverty and fulfill other energy goals in the community. Osney says it'll put a sum of £2m into energy plans in West Oxford throughout the 40-year duration of the hydro plant, more than 3x the original price of the structure. South Brent has its perspective on using the funds from the wind turbine to provide the seed funds for its own large hydro power scheme as well as insulating local homes.
The volunteers that have driven the two schemes forward were already experienced renewable energy investors. The Osney group had raised the money to invest in several large solar photovoltaic arrays on local buildings while one of the South Brent directors had rebuilt some of the village's small electricity-generating water wheels and another works as a surveyor for a large renewable energy company.
In South Brent about 130 people put money into the wind turbine from a village population of only 3,000. Although other Devon wind turbines have been fiercely resisted - including some planned by other community groups - few voices were ever raised against the proposal. At Osney, over half the money came from less than a mile from the weir at which the generating plant will be built.
The average amounts invested were broadly similar in both cases. The Thames scheme raised an average of just over £3,000 per investor compared to £2,300 in Devon. All the Osney shareholders are individual people. A few companies and trusts invested in the South Brent wind turbine - usually buying relatively few shares - but over 95% of the investors are individuals.
The big brother of these two ventures is the Westmill Solar cooperative, which raised £4m from 1,600 small shareholders in the summer of last year to buy an existing solar farm near Swindon. The profile of the investors is similar to the two newer schemes. At £2,500, the average investment is about mid-way between the and South Brent figures. Three quarters of the Westmill investment came from within 25 miles.
The experience in Germany shows what might be achieved by encouraging such community power companies.
By the middle of 2012 over 500 energy co-operatives were operating in the country, with almost 170 founded in 2011 alone. Although the pace of growth is faster there, other features are very similar. At around £2,800, the average size of shareholding in these ventures is about the same as in the UK and, like here, over 90% of investors are private individuals. The typical dividend is 4%, similar to the rate proposed at Osney and South Brent.
Even in Germany, co-operatives still produce less than one-tenth of 1% of the country's electricity. However, the speed of growth suggests that local energy companies may eventually produce a respectable amount of the country's power.
According to a recent survey, the prime purpose behind the German co-operatives is not to make shareholders rich but to promote renewable energy and to keep money in the local economy. The same survey showed that the most important reason that the founders decided to form co-operatives, rather than conventional companies, was because of the democratic "one member, one vote" nature of the decision-taking. If my straw polls are any guide, it's the same in the UK.
The experience at Osney and South Brent suggests that deeply rooted, cautiously run and philanthropic energy ventures can raise significant amounts of capital from local investors - even if the promised financial returns are quite limited.