The future of Solar farming in Cornwall…
Cornwall is set to become the UK’s leading solar energy producer if plans to build approximately 10 ‘sun farms’ are carried out.
Planning permission was granted for the UK’s first purpose built solar farm , near Truro, in October 2010. This appears to have given the green light for many more across Cornwall (UK’s sunniest region) with potential for more across the country.
The first to be built is that on the south facing side of the former Wheal Jane tin mine near Truro in Cornwall. A further 4 ‘solar farms’ have been granted permission with a further 5 said to be undergoing consultation. The sites are planned for sites across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The £4M 1.3MW solar farm near Truro will house around 6000 individual panels, each measuring 1.8M x 1M and laid out on galvanised steel fixed tilt frames.
The developer 35 degrees says the site could power around 300 households.
Building work was expected to start in January and to take about six weeks.
The solar farm will still produce electricity even when the weather is cloudy and for up to 12 hours a day during the summer.
If the go ahead is given to the remaining proposals and they are completed they would have the potential to generate 20MW of solar power, enough to power 10,000 homes, which would effectively double the UK’s current solar power generation.
A shift away from wind farms in the drive for renewable energy could help ease tensions in the battle between the apparent need to combat climate change and fears over the impact on the countryside, which has created divisions in the Westcountry.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has said it would be better for solar panels to be placed in urban areas, but that they could be acceptable in some rural areas, depending on their impact on the landscape.
Developers have been encouraged by a guaranteed price via the Feed-in-Tariff, introduced in April 2010, for energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind power.
Cornwall Council estimates solar farms could lead to up to £1bn of investment into the county.
However no sooner has the ‘solar gold rush’ to begin the Government this week has ordered a review into the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) incentive scheme. This review will be viewed across Cornwall and beyond with much concern.
Yet for all the disappointment that will be felt by those who had hoped to benefit from the solar farm developments, it is hard to deny the logic behind Energy Secretary Chris Huhne’s recent statement. Mr Huhne, in announcing a review of the way solar power and other green energy projects are subsidised, said: “Large scale solar installations weren’t anticipated under the Feed In Tariffs scheme we inherited. I’m concerned this could mean that money meant for people who want to produce their own green electricity has the potential to be directed towards large scale commercial solar projects.”
What’s galling, however, is that nobody raised this concern before or suggested the 5 MW level, up to which the FIT is payable, should be reduced to effectively exclude large businesses and encourage only the community-based projects. Having opened the door to the larger energy firms and encouraged investment in these projects it is a bit rich for Mr Huhne to now suggest changing the rules. And it raises bigger questions about the way this Government views green energy as a whole. Does it accept that in order to change the way we generate power financial incentives must be created to encourage green energy development – or does it want the market to dictate how power is produced?
If it believes market forces should take control then we can effectively kiss goodbye to any kind of revolution in the way we generate our energy. Without the incentives created by subsidies like the FIT no one, aside from die hard environmental campaigners, will consider it worthwhile to invest in solar power.