Community engagement sits at the heart of Awel, a Welsh renewable energy project. A group of volunteers decided to take the project forward. Their work led to the project being selected as a case study for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and included in governmental planning guidance on wind energy. We spoke with them about their project and their collaboration with Triodos Bank.
What challenge was the inspiration for your project?
The inspiration for Awel Co-op’s wind farm was the lack of funding for local community projects. We noticed that many crucial local regeneration schemes were continually having to apply for grant funding, putting them on an insecure financial footing. So we wanted to create an income-generating project through the windfarm that could provide a sustainable income stream for these community projects.
We chose a wind project because we also wanted to address the challenges of climate change and transitioning to a low carbon economy. The area immediately surrounding the wind farm has historically been a coal mining community and, with the reduction of mining activity in the area, we hit hard times. As a result, people have embraced both the idea of the wind farm as a community-owned asset for community benefit, but also moving away from a local economy based on fossil fuels to one dependent on sustainable energy.
What was your innovation that addresses this problem?
Because the local community has a low average income, it was a challenge to bring in the money needed to do all the feasibility, planning and building work—all the work that was required before the turbines started generating electricity. As a response to this, we chose to structure the project as a co-operative to ensure that everyone had a sense of ownership. Building a few wind turbines is a lot of hard work, but I wouldn’t exactly call it innovative. Our innovation was using the excitement of the wind farm construction period and co-op ownership of the project to generate publicity and gain local interest.
What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?
The reality is that the wind farm wouldn’t be there without Triodos Bank. It’s a £8.25m project, and the Triodos loan is £5.25m, so it’s an essential part of the scheme. But more than that, the fact that we had Triodos Bank funding gave people confidence in the project. Because we had been thoroughly looked at by an independent set of eyes, more people have been willing to buy into our share offer, which has now raised £2.5m.
In addition to the financial support, we received incredible amounts of advice over the years as we developed the project. Triodos gave us suggestions on how to go about planning and executing the plan to achieve the best outcomes and gave us insight into the types of things that would need to be in place to secure funding. More recently, Triodos has helped with local public relations and publicity, and I’ve had lots of positive feedback from people who have seen the Changemakers film Triodos produced featuring Awel Co-op.
What impact has your business had on the sector you work in?
It’s a relatively small project in the renewables sector as a whole, but we’ve had a significant impact on the scale of community projects in Wales. It is the largest community scheme in Wales by far and has raised a lot of interest regarding the size of our share offer and the amount of Triodos Bank funding that we’ve secured. I think it’s opened up people’s eyes to the potential of community renewables. We’re even talking to a lot of assembly members in the Welsh government who are looking at what we’ve done and wanting to see it replicated. Earlier this year, I was awarded the MBE in the New Year’s honours list, and that is because of the impact that the project has had and the broader impact on community energy in Wales. This all is indirectly leading to changes in policy to support community energy and encourage shared ownership between communities and commercial developers.
What impact has your business had on the community?
One of our goals is to get more of the local community involved and give them a stake in the project. To do this, we’re donating a total of £100,000 shares to local schools and community organisations which will provide them with a sustainable income stream. We’ve given shares to some school classes already, and have invited them up to the wind farm for a tour. This has been a fantastic way to engage the community. As soon as the children realise that they own the turbines, it inspires them.
How does Triodos Bank share your vision?
There is a mural in the lobby of the Triodos office in Bristol that indicates we can use the resources available to us—whether our project or money in general—to “meet present-day needs without compromising those of future generations.” That’s precisely what we’re about. It also is reminiscent of the Future Generations Act in Wales, which was one of the first independent pieces of legislation from the Welsh Government. The mutual commitment to sustainable development is at the core of our relationship with Triodos and what gives us the confidence to move with the bank in partnership towards the future.
Triodos Bank UK lends to a number of cooperatives across sectors, from community housing to energy production and retail organisations. Find out exactly where we lend our depositors’ money through Know Where Your Money Goes.