Swindon Borough Council begins work on circular economy solar project

Construction is underway on a new solar project from Swindon Borough Council, which will couple income from 1.2 ROCs with savings from a private wire with the Swindon household waste recycling centre to produce substantial new cash flows for the council.

The 2.5MW Barnfield Solar Park is being developed on a former landfill site adjacent to the recycling centre at Cheney Manor. If completed by the end of March, the project will be among the last to receive subsidy under the ROC regime and is expected to generate an income for Swindon Borough of approximately £200,000 a year.

In addition, solar energy from the site will be used to power the solid recovered fuel (SRF) plant, which converts 60,000 tonnes of waste every year into fuel for industry. The power purchase agreement is expected to save the council facility up to £35,000 a year from its energy bill in what Steve Cains, head of power solutions at developer Public Power Solutions (PPS), describes as “a nice circular economy project”.

Sean Magee, head of waste solutions at PPS, added: “Being able to operate our SRF plant using solar energy from Barnfield is truly an innovative step forward in our sustainability. Not only is this the right thing to do, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, it will also benefit us financially by bringing down the running costs of the plant.

Construction started this week and is expected to take up to eight weeks to complete, taking it right up to the 1.2 ROC deadline on 31 March. While there is confidence that the scheme will be completed in time, Cains explained that close attention will be paid to the projects development.

“Of course there's worry, I worry every day... you'd be mad not to. It's on target at the minute but that's no reason not to keep the pressure up and make sure the project gets delivered on time. We're really confident that it will but we can never rest on our laurels,” he said.

However, once completed PPS has bigger plans for the development and is prepared to bring in new technologies to further build the financial benefits offered by the Barnfield project.

Cains explained: “In future there's a potential for having storage and creating a smart grid on site because there's a lot of interesting things going on at Waterside [commercial park] itself.

“You've got a lot of vehicle movement from the council's perspective because of the fleet here so the opportunity to start to think about different applications of storage for mobility, for stationary applications, demand response services to the grid - that's a future aspiration.

“We see this as a phase one to the honest but if nothing ever happens in future it will work as a valuable scheme for 20 years [or more] but we hope we can really start to look at what we can do on site here.”

The project is not the only site Swindon Borough Council hopes to complete in time for the ROC deadline. Work began last month on the local authority’s second council bond-funded solar park, which raised £1.8 million from community investors to part fund the project.

Both projects will help the council move towards its goal to install 200MW of renewable capacity by 2020, enough to meet the equivalent electricity requirements of every home in the borough.