Time running out for community solar farm project as Government prepares to withdraw tax breaks

The community-run solar farm in Reach

The community-run solar farm in Reach - Credit: Archant

A group in East Cambridgeshire has launched a share offer for a community-run solar farm but is having to race to complete the offer before a key tax break is withdrawn by the Government.

The proposed solar farm at Reach is a small project - the group intends to install about 1,000 solar panels in a disused field on the edge of the village.

It is expected to generate enough electricity to meet the needs of around 50 houses, or about half of the village.

Villagers have formed a community benefit society which is hoping to raise £360,000 by March 17 to fund the project.

Some of the money raised from the electricity that is generated by the solar panels will be used to pay shareholders an interest payment each year on their shares, but some will also be donated to a community fund to be spent on other environmental projects in the village.

At present, community energy schemes like the one in Reach can take advantage of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), which helps investors by allowing them to reclaim a proportion of their investment as a reduction in their tax bill for the year.

But Chancellor George Osborne is planning to bring in changes to the tax relief from April which will see the scheme taken away from small community-owned schemes like the solar farm.

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Graham Lingley, a director of Reach Community Solar Farm, said: “Investing in the project is an opportunity for people to put their money somewhere that benefits the environment through the generation of clean energy, benefits the local community through a community fund, and still gives them a good financial return too. “

While the community group are hopeful that they will raise all the funds in time, Mr Lingley admits it will be a close run thing.

He said: “Share applications are coming in steadily, but we’re having to run the share offer for a much shorter period than we would like, as we have to have received all the payments for subscriptions several weeks before the end of the tax year so that we can be sure to issue the shares before the deadline.

“We only have a couple of weeks left. But we are hopeful we will make it - and are just sorry that this might the last chance for investors in small clean energy projects like ours to benefit from relief.”

Shares in Reach Community Solar Farm can be bought online via the group’s website at reachsolarfarm.co.uk, or through the community crowdfunding site Microgenius http://www.microgenius.org.uk/project/reach-community-solar-farm-29