A COMMUNITY energy project has started producing power for 600 Hampshire homes after transforming a former gravel pit into a solar farm.

Said to be the first scheme of its type in Hampshire, the West Solent Solar Co-operative (WSSC) facility has been funded by 500 investors who raised £2.6 million in just eight weeks.

So many people wanted to support the eco-friendly facility that the appeal was over-subscribed by £250,000.

As reported by the Daily Echo, 9,372 solar panels have been installed on a 12-acre site off Lower Pennington Lane, Lymington.

The farm has been connected to the National Grid and is already generating enough electricity to power hundreds of homes in the Lymington area.

WSSC chairman Anthony Woolhouse said: “We’re delighted that we were able to raise the funds in such a short space of time.

“This is an excellent example of a community-owned and managed, renewable energy project which we hope can be repeated elsewhere.

“As well as bringing green energy to Hampshire, it offers local people and others the opportunity to benefit from better returns than currently offered by banks and building societies while fighting climate change.”

Each member of the co-op contributed an average of £5,000 – and can expect to receive an 8.5 per cent return on their investment.

Volunteers have also planted 1,000 trees to landscape the area.

WSSC director Cathy Cook said: “After construction the whole field will be seeded with wild flowers. Beehives will then be established and sheep brought into graze the land.”

Solar farms have proved controversial because of concerns about their impact on the countryside and the public subsidies they receive.