Higher Knapp Farm in the small Somerset village of Knapp, Somerset will soon be producing enough carbon-free electricity to run 442 local households, thanks to the approval of plans to develop a 1.5MW solar farm.

Solar developer, Lightsource Renewable Energy, entered into an agreement with the land-owner to operate a solar park for 25 years. In order to gain planning permission for the proposals, Lightsource had to consult closely with Taunton Deane Borough Council to address locals’ concerns.  

First and foremost, local residents raised issues over the visibility of the proposed solar site. As the site slopes upwards at the eastern border, residents were concerned that the solar park would be eminently visible. Responding to the concerns, Lightsource went back to the drawing board and redesigned the site to a location in the lower areas of the land. In addition, the company proposed planting a screen of hazel coppice trees to shield sightlines.   

Conor McGuigan, Business Development Director for Lightsource, explained: “When we develop a new solar farm, we are entering into an agreement with the landowner and council for a period of 25 years. Therefore we are required to demonstrate that the land we build on is protected and used correctly to its fullest potential in order to obtain planning permission”.

“We are strong advocates of optimising the opportunity that a solar farm presents to enhance site biodiversity. Higher Knapp Farm will not only benefit from a new hazel coppice, but a species rich wildflower mix will be planted beneath and between the solar panel rows, creating a more diverse habitat.”

Commenting on the need for rigorous design and planning McGuigan said: “Our tenancy duration runs for a long period of time and it is imperative that we address any concerns like flooding risks upfront to ensure there will be no impact on the surrounding area. It is in our best interests to work with the council and address local concerns collectively.”

The recent influx of large-scale solar applications driven by the reduction in the RO rate from 2ROCs to 1.6ROCs in April has caused some to call into question the solar industry’s choice of suitable park locations.