Community Energy England and Community Energy Wales announced the winners of the 2018 Community Energy Awards at the Arnolfini, Bristol on Friday 19 October. The awards were sponsored by Bristol City Council and Co-op Energy. This award was sponsored by Power To Change.

The winner of the Community Energy Finance Award was the collaboration between two of the finalists, Mean Moor Wind Farm and Thrive Renewables, due to their partnership working on acquiring the Mean Moor Wind Farm. The award looks for the community group and/or its funders and advisers who have achieved the most impact through a range of financial instruments/mechanisms, through grant funding, debt finance, community shares, funding platforms or new funding models.

In July 2017, a consortium of community energy co-operatives, High Winds Energy Co-operative, Energy Prospects, Baywind and Energy4All (the project manager of the three community energy organisations) acquired the recently commissioned three turbine 6.9MW Mean Moor Wind Farm near Ulverston, Cumbria from its commercial owners, who had bought it from the developers.  The acquisition was complex and its funding involved bridging finance from Thrive Renewables and two community bond offers.  Mean Moor is next to the community-owned High Winds wind farm, and they are now being operated together. With five turbines between the two sites and a combined capacity of 11.5MW, this has created one of the largest community-owned renewable energy projects in the country.

Thrive Renewables is a Bristol based company with over 6,250 individual investors and was established by Triodos Bank in 1994 to provide an opportunity for individuals to invest in sustainable energy projects. It is now one of the UK’s leading independently owned renewable energy businesses. Thrive Renewables' principal activity is investment in sensitively located renewable energy projects and its portfolio currently comprises 21 renewable energy projects totalling 104MW.

The Thrive Community Energy Funding Bridge, a mechanism that was used to acquire Mean Moor, is specifically aimed at the community ownership of renewables. It was developed as a way of responding to this growing desire for community-owned renewables. It gives communities the time they need to raise their own funds through local ‘crowdfunding’ or/and via a bank loan – hence why their finance model is called a ‘bridge’.

The acquisition of Mean Moor demonstrates that communities can acquire, fund, own and operate renewable energy at significant scale and can be appropriate purchasers of other developed sites. It shows that communities can access and deliver the complex financial structures required by the largest projects. The operation of the wind farm can now be both soundly commercially based but also deliver material community benefit and be operated in a highly ethical manner which engages and supports the community.

Community Energy England and Community Energy Wales congratulate all parties on everything they have achieved to date and wish them the best of success with future endeavours.

Ahead of the ceremony in Bristol, an expert panel of judges selected winners in each of the seven categories following an open application process. Mark Billsborough, Head of Renewables and Hedging at Co-op Energy and one of the Community Energy Awards 2018 judging panel, said: “It’s been an honour to judge the Community Energy Awards 2018. I can honestly say that making the final decisions was incredibly difficult. From domestic heat loss surveys, to creating large-scale wind farms owned by the community, it’s clear that the impact of groups across England and Wales means more people are able to access the benefits of community energy and make a change for the better in our bid to become a more energy efficient society.”