Brilliant idea! The locals who bought two turbines to power the Thames Lido pool – and make a profit
- The world needs to ‘wake up’ to climate change, sounds the clarion call from the United Nations
- With many energy giants focusing more on making a profit than helping the planet, it may be time to take matters into your own hands
- The Thames Lido project is not the creation of a huge energy company, but of a 750-strong army of local investors
The world must ‘wake up’ to climate change, the United Nations clarion calls.
But with many energy giants focusing more on making a profit than helping the planet, it may be time to take matters into your own hands.
The Mail on Sunday appeals to the communities that generate their own clean energy – and a profit…
In the Deep?: Reading Hydro Community Benefit Society has raised £1.1m to build the factory that powers the Thames Lido
Down on the River Thames near Reading, two hydro turbines have started spinning this month. As water flows through these giant metal corkscrews, they spin and produce electricity. They should create enough to power the nearby Thames Lido pool and restaurant – and sell some back to the National Grid, making at least £63,000 a year.
The project is not the creation of a huge energy company, but of a 750-strong army of local investors. Reading Hydro Community Benefit Society has raised £1.1m to build the plant, which they hope will provide a return for its members – as well as clean energy.
They are just one of more than 450 community co-operatives across the UK that generate their own clean energy.
Groups come together to install hydropower and wind turbines, solar panels and even charging stations for electric cars.
They take over where greedy corporate giants and municipalities disappoint them, producing energy for their homes, money for their community and sometimes profit for themselves.
Emma Bridge, chief executive of the non-profit action group Community Energy England, says: ‘Community energy projects can help make energy more affordable and cleaner. Those who want to support a positive social and environmental project can find that it also offers a great investment opportunity.”
Building a water turbine together may sound revolutionary, but project director Tony Cowling believes the community is only returning to the way it used to be.
‘Since the Domesday Book of 1086 there is data on watermills in this area,’ says retired builder Tony, 67. ‘Yet the last mills closed in the last century when we switched to polluting coal-fired and nuclear power stations. It seemed a terrible waste not to use the old dam system in Reading to generate eco-energy.’
Local residents were invited to invest a minimum of £75 as shareholders in a cooperative plan. Fundraising took less than a year and by March 2021 all £1.1m had been raised. Project director Anne Wheldon, 67, says: “It wasn’t just people who wanted to do good, but investors who wanted a better return on their money than on a poorly paying savings account at a bank.”
The retired university lecturer adds: ‘Many who put money into it gave it as gifts for children – to support a sustainable future.’ Investors should receive about two percent starting next year, growing to four percent a year over the next five years.
The group also plans to arrange school visits. Anne says: ‘We want to show the next generation how we should all embrace environmentally friendly ideas for the future – not just leave it to the big business.’
Solar energy is the shining light of local projects
Solar energy accounts for more than 80 percent of the energy generated by sustainable community projects.
Local groups are raising money through joint offers to put solar panels on the roofs of schools, hospitals and local businesses. For example, Bath and West Community Energy has raised £9 million in a decade to build five solar farms and install solar panels on the roofs of 11 schools and four community buildings.
It now produces enough energy to power 4,000 local households. Investors will receive a target return of four per cent per annum and can invest from £100. Any profits will be shared between local community groups and charities, totaling around £250,000 to date.
Swimming: Tony Cowling and Anne Wheldon, project directors of the hydropower system that powers the Thames Lido
Wind farms can power at least 1,000 households
About 50 community energy projects have installed wind turbines to generate clean energy.
They are all located in less populated areas, in the north of Scotland and in rural Wales.
Strict planning conditions are attached to its installation. The largest can be 500 feet long with blades spanning 250 feet and costing over £4 million each. In full swing – spinning 20 times a minute – they can generate enough energy to power at least 1,000 households.
The largest community managed wind farm in Britain is Point and Sandwick Trust.
With support from local residents and businesses and a government grant, it has raised £14 million to install three giant turbines at Beinn Ghrideag’s Outer Hebrides wind farm.
It generates an income of £900,000 a year, which is used to support local projects.
Car charging control with 2 percent efficiency
Electric car charging stations are one of the biggest growth areas for community projects, with 76 starting last year.
Charge My Street plans to install 200 fast chargers across the UK. It is asking shareholders to invest a minimum of £100 and hopes to raise £200,000 by December.
The initiative will charge motorists a fee for using the charging points. Investors should get a return of two percent a year on earnings, rising to five percent if the initiative is a success.
Director Daniel Heery says: “Four of us came up with the idea five years ago.
‘We wanted electric cars, but we live in terraced streets where there were no sockets. Since then we have installed 50 of them.’
HOW CAN YOU FIND HELP FOR YOUR SCHEME?
You can get free advice and support for setting up a project from Community Energy England, Community Energy Scotland or Community Energy Wales.
Not-for-profit organization Our Community Enterprise can also provide information, and existing groups may be willing to share their experiences and expertise.
Establishing a cooperative can be a good structure for raising funds and issuing shares. Details on how it works can be found on the Co-operatives UK website uk.coop.
Investors should be aware that community stock purchased in these schemes are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme – so they have no protection if something goes wrong and they end up losing their money. Power generation is not eligible for tax deduction. However, community businesses – such as those set up to install charging stations – can be if they are set up as an Enterprise Investment Scheme. This gives investors a tax credit of up to 30 percent.
The charity Plunkett Foundation also offers advice and support to those setting up a community business.