NICE (Northern Ireland Community Energy)
Type of Business
Northern Ireland’s first community solar energy enterprise
About the share offer
The share offer was launched on March 3 at Stormont and is open for an initial period of four weeks. The aim is to raise £150,000 with a minimum investment of £250 in shares. The group estimates that return on investment will be in the region of 4% annually to shareholders. In addition, tax payers will be eligible for a one-off 50% tax relief on their investment.
The money raised from the share offer will allow NICE to put around 9 PV solar installations on community buildings such as community centres and charities.
While it may surprise some people, the power of the sun in Northern Ireland can produce substantial amounts of electricity. Many of the directors in NICE come from an environmentally sustainable energy background and not only have an expert knowledge of renewable resources but also a passion and commitment to the environment.
They felt that developing a community solar project would allow them to create economies of scale, shared technical expertise, and to grow the knowledge base in Northern Ireland.
“Traditional energy companies aim to maximise profit that reaches a small number of individuals. Our community-owned co-operative is based on a decentralised and far more equitable model that helps the environment, helps the local community, and is built upon principles of fairness,” explained director Andrew McMurray, who was also behind the successful Drumlin Wind Energy cooperative.
The group put out a call for third sector groups (charities, community groups, churches and social enterprises) that wished to have a solar installation on their roof top. When the PV solar panels are installed on the roofs of these buildings, the third sector group will then receive the electricity that they generate at a substantially reduced rate of 5.5 kw – saving them money every year. Any excess energy produced will be sold on to Northern Ireland Electricity. These profits will be used to produce a return to investors and partly placed in a Community Fund for future green projects to tackle fuel poverty.
Why Community Shares?
NICE is run by members of the local community – all volunteers – for the local community. The infrastructure they will help develop will not only aid future generations, but will also bring immediate and tangible benefits.
“The whole concept of this project is about sharing. Community Groups are sharing their roofs for us to put up panels, we are sharing a lower cost of electricity with them as well as sharing the proceeds with investors from the community. This is about fairness, equity, equality and sharing,” said NICE director Douglas McIldoon, former NI Energy Regulator.
A Community Share offer was the obvious choice because it prioritises local investors from the very community that will benefit from the solar project. It also is a fair and equitable way to run a business as each investor gets one vote, giving them a voice in how the project is run.
NICE was supported by the Community Shares Ready project, run by Co-Operative Alternatives to assist them with developing the society, defining the legalities and writing the share offer.
“The team at Co-Operative Alternatives gave us the assistance we needed at the time we needed it. They provided so much support and have gone far beyond the call of duty. They also have excellent contacts which have been really useful to help us progress to the share offer,” said director Cye Bannon.
All of the volunteer directors have other commitments so time has been a big issue.
“The process has been rigorous – and this is completely right. If you are putting together a share offer and asking people to invest, everything has to be in order. A community owned solar energy company is a new concept to Northern Ireland and we have spent time ensuring we adhere to all planning legislation and other legalities,” said director Karen Arbuckle.
NICE managed to install its first solar panels on the roof of Mediation NI in University Street in Belfast. The south facing roof was ideal for a small installation and is already in place and generating energy for the company. This first installation demonstrates the directors’ commitment and confidence in the project as a whole. It also gave them vital feedback from the business.
Rob Colwell, office and finance manager of Mediation NI, said: “We were amazed at how straightforward and quick this has been. We discussed it with our board and two months later the panels were in place on the roof generating low cost electricity for us. The legalities and the process were clearly explained. The contract was easy to understand, we reviewed and were very happy with the terms. We estimate that we will reduce our energy costs by 50% each year. This is a win-win situation – as an organisation we support green ideals and we are always trying to reduce our carbon footprint and save money. In addition, we liked that NICE is a cooperative – we support the ideal of working in collaboration with other organisations and also helping the community.”
NICE benefited from development support and expert advice with the Community Shares, Ready! project. We helped NICE to strengthen their Board and established good governance practices, to register as a community benefit society and adopt a suitable governing document. We wrote and published their community share offer and helped them with the launch. We were also able to engage professional advice such as a barrister and a solicitor to assist NICE to develop the right proposal for the potential sites.
DOWN TO EARTH NI
Type of Business
Northern Ireland’s first Woodland Burial Service
About the share offer
The share offer was launched on Jan 23, 2015 and is open for three months. The aim is to raise £40,000 with shares sold at £1 each and a minimum investment of 800 shares. If desired, the withdrawable share can be cashed in to purchase a burial plot on the site, in due course.
The Opportunity: Down to Earth identified an ideal site in the Lecale district of County Down and set up a Community Benefit Society with the aim of developing the first woodland burial site in Northern Ireland. There are more than 250 locations in England, Scotland and Wales offering woodland burials but none in Northern Ireland.
The organisation explains that this type of burial offers an alternative to traditional cemetery burials, which is respectful, peaceful and dignified. In addition, it will support the environment as the land is protected and additional native trees, such as oak, ash and willow, will be planted.
Why Community Shares?
The group applied for grant funding but was unsuccessful as it was a new start for a concept that was untested in Northern Ireland. “We had done our research and knew that people were interested in this idea. We formed the business as a Community Benefit Society because it is of the people, for the people. The Community Share offer will raise capital funding to be used for the planning and development of the site including intense survey work, ecology testing and eventually landscaping work to put in paths and tree planting. We will also be launching a crowd funding scheme and down the line, we will re-apply for grant funding as we will have a more highly developed proposition,” explained Gill McNeill of Down to Earth.
Down to Earth was supported by the Community Shares Ready project, run by Co-Operative Alternatives to assist them with developing the society, organising pledges events and writing the share offer.
“Time is a factor as the organisers and board members all work full-time. We’ve wanted to do this for the past 15 years as we feel it is such an amazing alternative to traditional burial – it’s an environmentally sound celebration of life,” said James Orr of Down to Earth.
“It’s a highly feasible way to raise capital finance. We like the co-operative model as the community then has ownership and a strong Community Benefit Society is a democratic way to run a business,” Gill said.
“Surround yourself with a team of dedicated people who will pitch in and make it happen,” James said.
Community Shares and Beer: a heady brew for NI Co-ops
Two Northern Ireland Co-operatives are brewing up a revolution in Northern Ireland by launching community share offers to establish micro-breweries in Belfast and the North Coast.
Lacada Brewery in Portrush and Boundary Brewing have taken advantage of the world-wide boom in craft beers by raising thousands of pounds to brew high quality beers to sell to the pub and restaurant trade in Northern Ireland.
Boundary Brewing has just ended its community share offer, raising an impressive £100,000 in just eight days. It has established a close relationship with East Belfast Partnership and is hoping to open premises in the Holywood Arches with the aim of having its first beer on the market by the end of March.
The co-operative has taken on its first full-time employee, Matthew Dick, who has spent the last year brewing beers with the Belfast-based Brewbot team which has produced a smartphone app showing how to brew beer.
Matthew said: “The board all have different reasons for wanting to be a cooperative. For me, Boundary was something that I wanted to share. It was also something that felt I had to share. You are fighting a lot of battles opening a brewery in Northern Ireland and offering beers which are different than what is available locally. As a cooperative, we now have 450 members, most of whom are local, who are thirsty to buy our beer!”
Lacada Brewery is a craft beer co-operative which is passionate about the community owning the business, believing it creates long term sustainability and will provide employment for future generations.
Its community share offer has been extended until March 6 2015 and it is hoping to have beer on the local market later in the year. The share offer began in October with a target of £60,000. To date they have raised around £35,000.
Laurie Davies from Cornwall is one of those driving the Lacada Brewery project and he says the North Coast area is ripe for a micro-brewery because of the strength of its hospitality industry.
He said: “A community-run brewery pushes a lot of buttons. We have members with a lot of talent from people skilled in chemical engineering, brewery design, planning and transport and people who own pubs, cafes and restaurants. We chose to do a community share offer because it goes hand in hand with being a co-operative, giving the business a good membership base.”
“Once we raise the money from the share offer, we will start building the brewery. and in the meantime canvas more outlets in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland. We are confident we will be able to sell out our weekly output of beer.”
For more information on Boundary Brewing go to: http://www.boundarybrewing.coop/
And to learn more about Lacada Brewery visit: http://www.lacadabrewery.com/
DRUMLIN WIND ENERGY CO-OPERATIVE
Type of Business
Amount Raised through two Share Offers
This was a chance for local people to have a stake in a greener future by investing in Northern Ireland’s first Wind Energy Co-operative. The Co-operative was created by NRG Solutions in partnership with Energy4All and enabled individuals and local organisations to become members by purchasing community shares. The principle “one member one vote” applies with each member having an equal say in how the co-operative is run and the opportunity to stand for Board elections.
It has a predicted annual financial average return of around 10% (including tax relief) over a 20 year investment period, through the sale of the electricity and Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCS). Also a community fund will be created and managed by the Co-operative.
The money raised through the community share offer has financed the construction of six 250kW wind turbines in Aghafad, Ballyboley, Cavanoneill, Parkgate, Ballyrobert and Cavanakill. The The community fund will be used to support local environmental and social projects.
STROOD GREEN COMMUNITY SHOP
Type of Business
Award-winning rural community shop
Amount Raised through Share Offer
The community raised money to acquire the shop through a variety of means including a £38,000 community share offer.
Residents of the village of Strood Green began a campaign to preserve the local shop back in 2005. After the shop was closed for a couple of years, the villagers raised £80,000 through a combination of grants, donations, loans and share sales and the shop re-opened in October 2009.
A further fund-raising campaign began in the spring of 2012 to acquire the leasehold. A very successful community share offer was launched which raised £38,000.
With the help of a further loan and a grant from Surrey County Council the community raised a total of £120,000. Community shares can often be used to leverage other funds.
As a result, the shop was extended and the rooms above the shop were refurbished to create a two bedroomed flat.
A true village shop at the heart of the community is now offering not only the essentials but also the opportunity to socialise and meet. A little café area in the back of the shop has become a meeting place where the villagers come in for a cup of tea or coffee and a chat or surf the internet.
Community shares have been used in various sector. These are some of the models we have explored during a series of workshops in 2013/2014. The workshop series was called “Community Owned: Community Shared”. To access the case studies and the presentations, please click on the links below: