Case Study: Westmill
Name of organisation
Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative Limited.
Where, what and how
Westmill Co-op was established in 2004 for the purpose of constructing and operating a community-owned wind farm at Westmill Farm in Oxfordshire and was the first opportunity in the South of England for local people to own and operate a substantial wind farm.
Funding was raised through a public share offer which attracted £4.6m from nearly 2,400 members; they receive annual share interest payments from the project. The Co-operative Bank loaned an additional £3.8m to complete the financing. As a co-operative society, Westmill Co-op exists for the benefit of its membership – a very broad cross-section of the public who benefit from the social, environmental and financial benefits generated by the wind farm operated by the society – and does not therefore have charitable status.
However, as with other registered societies, Westmill Co-op does enjoy the benefits of limited liability, which is appropriate given the large size of its contractual and operational commitments and the risk necessarily involved in its activities. Westmill Co-op conducts all its trading activity directly and does not have a trading subsidiary or belong to a group. However, as the co-operative wishes to support environmental initiatives in its local area it has established a charity for this purpose.
Westmill Co-op itself is one of a family of co-operatives established by Energy4All Limited – a social enterprise consultancy owned by the co-operatives it creates – which managed the project development, ran the share offer and provides on-going management services.
Why the form fits
Using a co-operative society means Westmill can raise equity finance but also ensure it is established democratically and for the benefit of its members.