Westmills - A member driven vision
Westmill Wind and Westmill Solar Co-operatives are community-owned renewable energy co-ops with turbines and solar panels positioned on an organic farm in the South West of England. They have combined community energy memberships of 3,500 and generate renewable energy for around 5,000 homes. Westmill provides an opportunity for people who are concerned with the effects of climate change to become involved in the ownership and operation of a community-owned renewable energy model. Read about their recent members-driven Futures event.
Community energy and engaging members:
Community energy puts people at the heart of the energy system. It brings individuals together to take democratic climate action by understanding, generating, owning, using, and saving energy. It’s this democratic involvement that is key to guiding the success of the future of the Westmill’s co-operatives. The directors are aware of how vitally important it is to ensure that members have control of how they can play their part in engaging in the vision of Westmills, their environment and our planet. So, a members-driven ‘Futures Event’ was planned.
Member Consultation Event:
On a bright, sunny morning in October, Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative, and Westmill Solar Co-operative, together with their partners WeSET and Energy4All, hosted their first Westmill Futures Conference in Didcot.
This was an exciting opportunity, post-COVID-19, to interact with members, the Boards and partners including Your Co-op Energy and Younity. A collaboration between all with an interest in shaping the future of Westmill.
The importance of member engagement
The day started with a panel discussion to explore what a Westmill future could look like. The panel consisted of Mike Smyth from Energy4All, Doug Parr from Greenpeace UK, Amelia Crews from Your Co-op Energy and Skye Frewin from Low Carbon Hub. An engaging Q&A session helped set the scene for the day’s events. Navigating the situation now but also providing solutions to support communities for years to come. The panel highlighted impacts of the climate crisis on members and how to generate youth engagement to ensure longevity of Community Energy groups. Following the panel discussion, members made their way to three workshops focused on:
The Future of the Westmill Site – Looking at long-term planning of the site, battery storage and supply opportunities and biodiversity models.
The Future of their Memberships – Concentrating on member benefits, what does a diverse membership look like, identifying new members and member engagement with existing and new members.
The Future beyond Westmill – Discussing community grants, future investments and the broader influence of Westmill in the local area and beyond.
There was much discussion, energy, and passion across these workshops, which provided numerous suggestions and feedback that will be worked into the development strategy of the two co-ops.
So, what were the key findings from the day:
- Extend the project lifetime of the Westmill co-ops, install more generation and innovate with local supply models
- Improve the diversity of the membership (especially around youth) – a sustainable Westmill needs younger people to take on the baton.
- Increase outreach to the local community and develop new member benefits to encourage more people to get involved with Westmill.
- Catalyse a community energy 'mass movement' – share the incredible Westmill story and encourage others to build on its (and others’) example.
These findings and other suggestions from the day will be shared with the wider Westmill membership and help shape the topics to be discussed at next year’s AGM’s.
What the Directors thought about the event:
‘It was great to meet with members face-to-face after two COVID-disrupted years. The current energy crisis has reinforced the importance of local renewable generation and energy efficiency. It has also reinforced our members’ enthusiasm and resolve to ensure that we do as much as we can to build on what Westmill has already achieved and that these achievements are shared and emulated much more widely’. Tom Parkinson, Westmill Solar Co-op Chair
‘Climate change is the challenge of our age. I believe a successful climate transition has to be both just and democratic. I'm enthused after every Westmill event, because I can see how a different sort of economic model is being developed and that other people share that same sort of vision. The opportunity is to share that experience widely’. Mark Luntley, Westmill Wind Farm Co-op Chair
Acting Now to shape the future:
The Westmills aim to inspire the community energy sector, hosting their first ever Westmill Futures Conference has helped them engage directly with their members to continue shaping their future modelling. They are aiming to share their learnings to support other community energy groups for a sustainable future and showcase the importance of Acting Now. This is what makes Younity so proud, to be supporting partners such as the Westmill’s who are looking change the game for the community energy sector. Sharing best practice with likeminded groups increases the power exponentially of a mass community energy movement.
Author: Ryan Rushton, Business Development Manager at Younity / Board Director for Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative.