The UK’s first post-subsidy community solar farm, Creacombe Solar Farm near Yealmpton, South Devon, has now been completed and was connected to the grid last week.
The 7.3MW project will generate enough green electricity to supply the equivalent of around 2,440 homes, or more than half the households in the five local parishes of Newton & Noss, Holbeton, Yealmpton, Wembury and Brixton. It will save approximately 2,000 tonnes of carbon per year.
Developed in close cooperation with local group Yealm Community Energy (YCE), Gnaton Farms and the Lopes Family, the solar farm is on low-grade land owned by Gnaton Farms and was granted planning consent in 2017. Under the ownership of Community Owned Renewable Energy Partners (CORE), an initiative from charitable trust Power to Change, construction of the solar farm began in September and was completed at the end of January.
The solar farm is split into two parts: 60 percent of the site is expected to receive a small subsidy in the form of one of the last Community Feed-in Tariffs for which it was pre-accredited, while the remaining 40 percent is subsidy-free, making it the first subsidy-free community ground-mount solar to be built in the UK.
Power to Change also runs the Next Generation programme, which gives grants and support to innovative ideas for creating renewable energy, and which is advising YCE.
Peter Brown, YCE Chair, said: “It is over five years since Yealm Community Energy started to explore the idea of bringing a community solar farm to this part of Devon which is ideal for generating solar power. We are very pleased that Creacombe is now connected to the grid, although work will continue on the landscaping and creating wildflower meadows and wildlife habitats around the panels, and are excited about the next phase of the project – launching our share offer this summer.”
“We would like to thank the people and organisations that have helped us get here: Gnaton Farms and the Lopes family for their support; CORE, Environmental Finance and Next Generation for helping us with the acquisition and transfer to community ownership; and Goldbeck Construction for building the project during a very muddy winter!”
With support from CORE and Next Generation, YCE plans to launch an investment offer this summer to enable the community to invest directly in Creacombe along with another nearby operational solar farm, Newton Downs, which is also part of the CORE portfolio.
Peter added “Both solar farms will be able to generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of all the homes in our five local parishes helping to meet our Net Zero commitments, saving over 3000 tonnes of carbon a year. Equally important, once we have completed the share offer so they are fully community-owned we expect to generate a healthy profit which will be spent locally to grow other exciting initiatives to tackle the climate crisis such as energy efficiency, electric vehicles and more green power generation.”
Newton Downs solar farm has been operational since 2017 and has already made an important contribution locally through its community benefit fund which is administered by YCE. The 2019 grant funding round, closed in December awarding £20,000 to 14 different projects, ranging from £5,000 to South Dartmoor Community Energy for its “Net Zero Heroes” programme, to £400 to Brixton Parish council for equipment for voluntary clean-up activities.
Leading social and environmental impact investor, Environmental Finance, advised CORE through the development and financing of Creacombe solar farm. CORE is a £50m social investment partnership between Big Society Capital and Power to Change, whose aim is to bring solar farms into community ownership and deliver lasting local community benefits.
Andre Sarvarian, Associate Director at Environmental Finance, said “We have been delighted to support Creacombe throughout the construction process. Having developed and managed CORE, Environmental Finance has been an integral part of the delivery and investment for Creacombe alongside supporting another 32MW of community solar over the last two years. Creacombe sets a leading example which can further stimulate the community energy market towards subsidy-free renewables, whilst delivering tangible social and environmental community benefits over the project lifetimes flowing directly to the local communities surrounding these projects.”
Will Walker, Community Energy Programme Manager, Power to Change, said: “We are very proud to have played a part in the creation of the UK’s first post-subsidy community owned solar farm at Creacombe.
“Our Next Generation programme is working alongside CORE to equip all the community groups with the knowledge, skills and opportunities that they need to take ownership and develop these solar assets into successful long-term projects that deliver against local needs and priorities. They will bring huge benefits to their local areas, from affordable warmth projects tackling fuel poverty, to better community and cultural spaces.”
Over their operational lifetime, CORE’s portfolio of solar farms are expected to create a surplus of several million pounds to fund community benefit projects. In the Yealm area this has already included putting solar panels on Newton and Noss Village Hall and creating a community wildflower meadow and orchard in Yealmpton.