Heart of England Community Energy (HECE) owns more assets than any other community energy society in the UK. It is a community benefit society regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and is bound to act for the benefit of the communities in which it operates – the Heart of England region. Therefore, all operations and management are to fulfil the end-goal of maximising the community benefit fund, which will see surplus profits invested back into the community to deliver social and environmental benefits, for example by supporting the alleviation of fuel poverty. CovCAN member Tony McNally is one of the Directors.
In July 2017, HECE acquired three operational solar farms each with a generating capacity of almost 5 MW located at Drayton Manor Farm on Alcester Road, CV37 9RQ. Some of the land on which the solar farms are built is contaminated and cannot be used for agricultural purposes, which makes it a particularly appropriate location for solar farms and a responsible use of the land. The three solar farms are part of a larger development of nine solar farms.
The sites are among the first solar farms to be co-located with grid-size batteries, which are owned by another entity. Grid-size batteries are a form of large-scale energy storage technology, which store electricity when supply exceeds consumption. The electricity is returned to the grid when production falls below consumption. The solar farms and batteries share a grid connection. The three installations combined cover 75-acres of land and are made-up of around 60,000 solar panels. The solar arrays produce enough electricity to power 4,500 typical UK homes.
The solar farms, Poplars, Willows and Leys, are each owned by a Community Interest Company of which HECE is the sole shareholder.
Heart of England Community Energy acquired the three solar farms using a loan in excess of £6 million from Social & Sustainable Capital (SASC), a specialist investment fund with the goal of supporting community organisations to deliver sustainable solutions to social issues. As a short-term, flexible loan it carries a higher interest than longer-term financing. To minimise this cost, HECE aim to repay the loan by March 2020 and raise the money via crowdfunding.
HECE will support local charities and projects with a positive social and environmental impact. After deducting money from the income it receives to repay the cost of building the installation, it expects to donate up to £2.7 million to good causes over the projects’ lifetime with a minimum of £30,000 per annum in the initial years. Its primary focus is to improve the health of elderly and other vulnerable people suffering from living in cold and damp homes by helping them to access help with reducing energy bills and improving heating and insulation. This is done mainly through Act on Energy addressing fuel poverty. Smaller amounts go to a local Harbury Eco- Village project to help run 2 electric cars to help service people without transport to go to the doctor or hospital. Another sum goes to a charity operating in several African countries providing solar panels to remote villages.
None of the nine executive directors are paid for their work.