Wind turns corner for green, ethical investors

 

BELFAST BRIEFING:ETHICAL INVESTMENT – two words that you might imagine have gone somewhat out of fashion in these financially fatigued days. Not, it appears, when it comes to Northern Ireland, where the opportunity to “earn a return on an ethical investment” has inspired a new wave of investors to take a chance on a pioneering green energy venture.

Drumlin Wind Energy Co-operative – which hopes to raise up to £3.4 million to build the North’s first community wind farm co-op – says it has been pleasantly surprised by the response to its public share offering.

The Drumlin Wind Energy Co-op launched its offering in Belfast in June and it has attracted more than £562,755 of investment so far – which its directors say has “exceeded expectations”.

The co-op wants to build and operate five 250kW single wind turbines in locations including Pomeroy, Kells, Larne and Ballyclare.

Drumlin Wind was set up by Energy4All – a not-for-profit organisation in the UK owned by the community co-operatives it creates.

Energy4All emerged in the mid-1980s following the arrival in the UK of a Swedish company that successfully exported the Swedish concept of community ownership of wind farms. This led to the creation of the UK’s first community wind farm co-op – Baywind in Cumbria – which now has more than 1,300 members and is proud to boast “profits”.

Baywind created Energy4All to help other UK communities create locally owned wind farm ventures; today it administers a total of seven additional co-ops which have attracted more than £15 million of investment.

Drumlin Wind, which has a board of local directors, needs to raise minimum capital of £1.5 million to enable it to install two wind turbines in the North. If it fails to raise the minimum amount, everyone who has invested to date will get their money back.

The share offer is open until September and, although the co-op is still some way off its target, it has enjoyed a promising start.

So why has a green energy project proved to be such an investment hit in the North?

Andrew McMurray, a director of Drumlin Wind, believes it might have something to do with the fact that it is the “first of its kind across the island of Ireland”.

The co-op has projected that the minimum return investors will receive in year one is 3.5 per cent – but it expects that the return rate will increase over the 20-year lifespan of the project to 7.2 per cent.

It has stated that it intends to repay all capital over the 20-year lifespan – starting in 2016.

According to McMurray, equally important to Drumlin Wind investors is the fact that it marries an investment opportunity with the chance to make a difference. He says Northern Ireland investors recognise that they can “come together and be a catalyst in developing a more sustainable future for generations to come”.

The scheme is open to “first-time and seasoned investors as well as everyone in between” who has the minimum £250 required to invest.

Shares are £1 each and the legal maximum is £20,000 per investor.

Drumlin Wind said it has received “advance assurance” from Revenue and Customs that the shares will qualify for tax relief equivalent to 30 per cent of the cost of the shares.

So not only are investors getting the chance to invest in something that could potentially benefit their community – the co-op intends to pay £2,000 per site per year to a Northern Ireland community fund – but they are also helping in the fight against climate change while earning a return on their ethical investment.

In theory, it all makes a refreshing change and, if trends are anything to go by, it might just be the start of something in the North. The Northern Ireland Executive has set itself a target to deliver 40 per cent renewable electricity and 10 per cent renewable heat by 2020.

Minister for Energy Arlene Foster has repeatedly stressed that renewable energy sources are set to play an “ever-increasing role” in Northern Ireland, which will create new business opportunities for local companies and entrepreneurs.

This is illustrated by the latest deal struck by one of the North’s biggest electrical retailers, Power NI, which is part of the Viridian Group. Power NI supplies over 650,000 homes and more than 35,000 farms and businesses.

The Viridian subsidiary has just signed a 15-year contract with Simple Power, the Belfast wind energy start-up established just two years ago by local entrepreneur Paul Carson, to buy power generated by its single wind turbines across the North.

Winds of change for the North indeed . . .

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