Orchard Community Energy grew out of a loose group of individuals that had been working on various aspects of energy and climate change locally in Kent. When the opportunity arose to bring a ground-mounted solar array into community ownership, Orchard was born. This site was Orchard Farm – a 5 MW solar array outside of Sittingbourne, Kent – and it began generating energy in 2016.
The Orchard Farm site is 100% community-owned and was part-funded by a community share offer. The support from the local community has been very positive compared to larger-scale solar arrays in the area; we believe this is because we have the right location, appropriate scale, and because profits have a direct and positive impact on the local community. We are currently undertaking a share offer to refinance existing short-term bonds at Orchard Farm and fund new projects. We have raised nearly £1M to date from local and national investors.
Following the success of the Orchard Farm Site, we entered into a partnership with COOK – a socially responsible frozen foods company – to install community solar panels on the roof of their new site at Sittingbourne. We have a long-term contract with COOK, and they have agreed to buy energy from us for the next 18 years to power their freezers. This, in turn, covers the costs of funding and running the solar array and allows us to support more community projects.
Our community grants scheme offers an open application process for local charities and projects between August and October. We are strongly focused on projects that achieve positive environmental and social impacts at the same time. So far, we have donated £50,000 to local projects – including the installation of LED lights at a children’s centre and supporting environmental volunteering.
Orchard Community Energy is continuing to grow and seek new opportunities across Swale and Medway with a focus on community-owned solar.
Get the right skills mix – A community business needs to blend the right mix of skills to make things happen, including technical, legal, communications, community, and commercial knowledge. It’s also important to tap into the wide array of external knowledge and support available, including resources from Community Energy England and Community Energy South.
Think about scale – It usually makes sense to cover a big enough area to tap into available support and enable partnerships with service providers.
Allow enough time for initial outreach – It will take time to connect and engage potential investors and supporters across the community. Ensure there is enough time in your plan to attract sufficient local membership.
- kWh of energy produced from renewables
- Contribution to local charitable projects
- Biodiversity improvements (future measure)