This article documents how the UK's first combined green energy zone has recently been completed after 23,000 photovoltaic panels at Westmill Solar Farm, adjoining five wind turbines, were connected to Britain's national grid. It also contains details of a coveted community energy investment scheme.

BRITAIN'S first combined green energy zone has been completed after the UK's largest solar farm was connected to the national grid.

Power from adjoining solar and wind farms set in rolling Oxfordshire countryside will now supply the equivalent of at least 4000 homes for at least the next 25 years.

The unique renewable energy farm became possible when developers agreed to cover the equivalent of eight football pitches with state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels.

Power from the 23,000 solar panels - more than any other UK solar farm installation - began supplying electricity last Wednesday (July 20), days before government changes to feed-in tariffs.

The photovoltaic plates at Westmill Solar Farm, mounted at a height of three metres on 68km of steel, supply an output of nearly 5 MWp of energy.

Together they are capable of powering 1500 homes, before accounting for electricity generated by the five adjacent wind turbines erected in 2008.

Chris Dean, managing director of Blue Energy which constructed the solar farm, said: "To complete the UK's largest solar energy farm in such a short period of time is a tremendous achievement.

"We have worked successfully with several other partners around the clock to finish this unique solar project, before the government's deadline puts an end to projects of this scale.

"The installation offsets 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, it will provide power for a minimum of 25 years and from an aesthetic point of view, it is quite a sight to behold.
"The combination of wind and photovoltaic power on this scale means the project is unique to the UK renewable energy sector in more than one way."

Blue Energy's construction of Westmill Solar Farm took eight weeks to complete after renewable energy developer Low Carbon Solar struck a deal to develop the site near Swindon.

State-of-the-art AuO solar panels from German company Abakus were installed to ensure that ‘Westmill' provided the required 4.986MWp of energy at maximum efficiency.

Mark Shorrock, CEO of Low Carbon Solar which handled planning and grid application processes, said: "Westmill is a great example of how land, not suitable for agricultural use in the UK, can be harnessed for renewable energy and ensure the provision of more secure and reliable energy for the UK's future."

The solar farm began harvesting sunlight at 4pm on July 19. Following the government's decision to curtail tariff levels associated with large-scale solar projects as of August 1, Blue Energy is now focusing on providing solar schemes for residential settings.

MD Chris Dean added: "We are in the process of tailoring solar energy projects with incorporated investment schemes for private dwellings across the UK."

The newly active solar farm will be the subject of the UK's largest community co-operative scheme later this year, giving local residents among other shareholders ownership of the unique project.

It follows a similar and successful scheme organised for Westmill Wind Farm in 2007 when 2,500 residents raised £5m to build the community owned turbines.

A share offer will be launched in October through Westmill Solar Co-operative with support from Energy 4 All, experts in community-owned renewable energy schemes.

It is expected to be open for only 6 weeks and raise around £3 million offering investors the chance to invest between £250 and £20,000 with an average return of 10 per cent over 25 years.

Adam Twine, a director of Westmill Solar Co-op and who farms at Westmill Farm where both the solar and wind projects are situated, said: "Local ownership of a solar farm in the UK on this scale will be a first. We expect to be oversubscribed for the share offer as we were for a similar scheme involving the wind farm.

"It's our hope that this model of local people taking positive action to address climate change and generate renewable energy effectively in their own community will be replicated across the UK."

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