Investors on the roof of Harveys warehouse, whose solar PV array was funded by a community share offer.

Jan Hunter, one of the Directors of local community energy company Ovesco, explains how investment by local people is helping to generate clean energy across Lewes and beyond – and delivering a wealth of community benefits.

The Ouse Valley Energy Services Company (OVESCO) is one of Transition Town Lewes’s great success stories. It has been one of the true pioneers of community energy in the UK, not only installing enough solar energy to power hundreds, if not thousands, of homes but using what it’s learned to benefit other community energy companies across the south east.

Our first community energy share offer

In 2011 OVESCO became one of the very first community energy company in the UK to build a solar photo-voltaic (PV) power station using a community share offer. We installed 98kW with 545 solar PV panels on the roof of Harvey’s Brewery warehouse in Lewes.

To pay for this we raised over £350,000 from more than 240 local investors with a community energy share offer. At a launch event attended by over 200 people, held at Lewes Town Hall we explained our approach to local people. Investors receive 4% interest annually over a maximum of 25 years and their capital is returned to them over this period.

This project provides 92,000 kWh of renewable energy each year (equivalent to the electricity used by 30 medium-sized UK homes), reduces CO2 emissions by 28 tonnes, and provides free electricity to Harvey’s Brewery. It also gives OVESCO an income from the government Feed-in Tariff (FIT), which provided payment for energy generated and exported to the National Grid, and was then at its highest level.

Supporting the community
Ovesco

OVESCO demonstrating energy through pedal power at STEM Eastbourne

As a community benefit company, OVESCO must use some of its income to fund activities that benefit the whole local community, not just our shareholders. We are particularly keen to educate young people about renewable energy as we know they will influence both future policy and their parents! In local schools, and through the STEM scheme to encourage students into science, technology engineering and maths, we provide workshops to help young people understand different ways of generating renewable energy. We also give an information screen to each school illustrating the activity of their solar panels.

OVESCO’s projects inspired the setting up of Community Energy South, which has since supported the growth of community energy groups across the South East. CES’s community energy groups have enabled over 100 schools to benefit from solar PV energy in the south east.

Further share offers

Over the past nine years we have organised three further share offers and have installed a further 3,260 KWh of solar power on 14 sites, of which 12 are schools, which is helping to reduce their running costs.

We also helped to develop a major 5MW solar farm near Chichester for Meadow Blue Community Energy by raising over £1.2 million on the ethical investment platform, ETHEX. That’s now generating enough electricity to meet the annual electricity consumption of 1,235 typical homes

Financing challenges
Ovesco

The solar PV array on the roof at Landport Community Hub and Pippa’s Nursey in Lewes, funded by an Ovesco community share offer

During this time, reductions in government support for renewable energy have made funding of our schemes harder. The reduction in, and now removal of, the feed-in tariff means we can no longer give the electricity to the building occupier. Instead, they must now contract to buy the electricity generated at a rate which is usually lower than the rate they paid previously. The removal of the Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief has also made funding community renewable energy less tax efficient for investors.

However, we are pleased that many local investors continue to support our goals of reducing carbon emissions locally and educating people about renewable energy. In 2019, Lewes District Council demonstrated their commitment to renewable community energy by investing £5,000 in our latest Sunny Solar Schools share offer.

The future of community energy investment

In the absence of government incentives, funding of future schemes will rely more heavily on the commitment of local people and organisations focused on renewable energy and developing local energy resilience. We know many of our investors are investing for their children’s and grandchildren’s future (and in fact OVESCO shares can be inherited free of inheritance tax).

For many, the financial return of investing in local community energy is less important than the environmental and ethical benefits. With so many of us keen to move to a zero-carbon world, we hope more people will be inspired to invest in their local community energy company.

To find out more about OVESCO and participate in future community energy share offers, sign up to our newsletter

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  1. Using my money for good | Transition Town Lewes - […] local renewable energy AND receiving a 4% return!  (Read more in our article on supporting Ovesco here). This also…

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