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Individuals buy £3m of shares in co-operative wind farms

LOCAL investors have purchased nearly £3 million worth of shares in a co-operative wind farm project in South Lanarkshire, exceeding the target by more than £275,000.

The investment, generated by 607 individual investors, has been hailed as a vote of confidence in the co-operative model and a signal of the appetite for alternative investments while bank interest rates remain low.

Applications for the £2.7m of shares available in The Spirit of Lanarkshire (SOL) Wind Energy Co-operative totalled £2,975,671 when the offer closed on March 20.

Those shares will now be allocated, with priority given to residents of South Lanarkshire and then the surrounding areas.

The shares will effectively give local people the chance to secure 5% stakes in two wind farms, developed and operated by Falck Renewables Wind.

The co-operative has so far provided £1m of funding to the Nutberry wind farm, near Coalburn, which has been generating income from shareholders since November.

A further £1.7m will invested in the West Browncastle wind farm, near Strathven, with the stake due to be secured on May 18.

The South Lanarkshire project represents the fifth and largest wind energy co-operative to be organised by Energy4All in Scotland.

With annual returns of 8.5% being enjoyed by investors in the first four since 2009, Energy4All said its co-operative model offers a genuine alternative for savers.

Regional development manager Paul Phare said: "It's amazing, it's far more than we were expecting.

"To have had a target of £2.7m and to exceed it shows the appetite for this kind of investment."

The Nutberry wind farm, which is now generating electricity, will ultimately host six 2.5 megawatt (MW) turbines, while West Browncastle, to the west of Strathven, will have 12 2.5 MW machines. The latter is due to begin producing electricity in April.

Mr Phare, who sits on the board of the SOL co-operative, explained the campaign to attract investment initially targeted South Lanarkshire residents with local press and Facebook advertising. It was then widened out to areas bordering on South Lanarkshire such as East Ayrshire, Scottish Borders and North Lanarkshire.

Potential investors were given the chance to visit wind farms and to attend roadshows, which were held in towns such as Bothwell, Strathven and Coalburn.

Mr Phare said the minimum investment is set at £250, with the maximum limit fixed at £20,000 "so you don't get a few individuals benefiting".

The policy of prioritising local investors means anyone from outside South Lanarkshire and its surrounding areas who wishes to invest £5000 will not be able to commit the full amount to the co-op.

The co-op said it intends to repay members' original investment after 25 years, but members may be able to withdraw their capital on request before then.

Mr Phare noted co-op members will have the opportunity at annual meetings to vote for the profits to be returned to shareholders on a "one member one vote basis - it doesn't matter how much you invest".

But he said experience at other co-ops set up by Energy4All shows that members often vote to invest profits in local community projects, such as the installation of solar panels in schools.

Mr Phare added that the model chimes with a key objective of the UK government's community energy strategy, which seeks to build on the 5000 community energy projects already in place.

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