Green energy co-ops draw investors through new website

Want to invest in green energy but don’t have a local project to invest in? A new website lists share offerings for green energy co-ops around the UK

Co-operative green energy projects could bring in more funding from ethical investors through a new online fundraising platform. The website, Microgenius, allows ethical investors to buy shares in community and co-operative renewable energy projects such as hydro, solar and wind power.

Previously, co-operative share issues were mostly advertised locally. The site aims to benefit small renewable energy projects by providing tools to access social media and to manage the sale of shares electronically. In return, Microgenius – a social enterprise which reinvests profits – charges a commission of 4% of the value of shares sold.

Founder, Emily Mackay, received £10,000 to help establish the site from the Anglia Ruskin University Centre for Enterprise Development and Research (CEDAR), as part of its Enterprise Fellowship Scheme. Mackay said: “Microgenius has been specially developed to manage the administration of fundraising and also to make it possible to reach a much wider range of people with the share offer.”

On 15 September 2012, the first share offer was launched on the site by Sheffield Renewables for the Jordan Dam hydroelectric plant. Sheffield Renewables co-operative plans to install an Archimedean screw device, which turns as water runs into it and so generates electricity, at a weir on the River Don. The project will also include a ‘fish ladder’ to improve fish migration up-river.

Mark Wells, business and funding director at Sheffield Renewables, said: “Fast-flowing water was the powerhouse that started Sheffield’s steel industry. Our project aims to generate 310,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, the amount used by 80 typical family homes, and save the 170 tonnes of carbon dioxide that would otherwise have been produced. Profits from the scheme will support local environmental projects, so by purchasing shares, investors will be contributing to creating a greener, more sustainable city.”

Sheffield Renewables hopes that the share offer will help raise the £250,000 needed to set up the project. Shares cost £1 each, with a minimum purchase of 250 shares. Once the initiative is up-and-running, investors are expected to receive an annual interest rate of 3% plus tax relief.

The enterprise has already raised £50,000 from selling shares to local investors. Wells explains: “We have strong grassroots support from the Sheffield community, but we want to expand our membership. Microgenius is exciting as it offers a new way for people to engage in community energy generation across the UK.”

Two other share offers for smaller projects were also launched on Microgenius in September 2012. These are Herefordshire-based Woolhope Woodheat, which provides free installation of low carbon wood fuel boilers in buildings that are hard to heat and supplies fuel from local neglected woodlands. The other project, the Greater Manchester TreeStation, is a community benefit society that manages woodland to provide heating for social housing.

According to Microgenius, shareholders in small-scale renewable energy projects typically receive an annual dividend or interest payment of between 3% and 5%, plus a further 30% of this sum in tax relief if the project is registered for the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). They also become members of the society running the project, so have a vote (one vote regardless of the number of shares) and a say in how the project is run. Investors can generally withdraw shares after a period of time set out in the offer.