The 350MW site will need to be submitted as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, and approved by the secretary of state for BEIS. Image: Andreas Gücklhorn (Unsplash).

A new joint venture between Windel Energy and Canadian Solar dubbed Mallard Pass Solar Farm Limited has announced a 350MW project.

If built, the project would sit across 880 hectares of land either side of the East Coast Main Line near Essendine, making it partly situated in South Kesteven in Lincolnshire, and partly in Rutland. It would be connected to the grid at the existing Ryhall substation.

Mallard Pass Solar Farm is running a non—statutory phase of community consultation on the project from today (4 November) until 16 December 2021. Following the consultations further environmental assessment and design work will take place, ahead of the Stage Two consultation on a more detailed proposal.

The company is hoping to then submit the project's Development Consent Order (DCO) application to the Planning Inspectorate. Given that the project is over 50MW it will be classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), and the secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrially Strategy will determine its final approval.

“At a time when gas prices are at an all-time high due to our reliance on imported energy, it is our ambition to create low-cost energy that is kind to the local environment and delivers for the planet,” said Gary Toomey, managing director of Windel Energy.

“We recognise the need to deliver these projects sensitively. We want to talk with local communities to understand their views and listen to their ideas. Feedback received during this Stage One consultation will help us to develop our proposals more thoroughly, and we want to hear from as many members of the community as possible. Our project website, virtual exhibition and contact channels are now live, and we will be coming to the community to host three local consultation events. I would encourage anyone with an interest in these projects to get in touch and take part in our upcoming consultation.”

Windel Energy specialises in the development and asset management of renewable energy projects and low carbon technologies, and was set up in 2018. In January, its partnership with industry giant Canadian solar was announced, with the two targeting a 1.4GWp pipeline of solar in the UK.

“Canadian Solar’s involvement in the latest early-stage NSIP planned mega-solar farm in the UK is interesting,” said Finlay Colville, head of market research at Solar Media.

“Being a Chinese-run entity, Canadian Solar has been listed on NASDAQ since 2006 when starting as a low-cost module assembly company. Over the years, the company backward integrated to wafers and cells, and then made strong moves into project financing. This resulted in Canadian Solar effectively having two arms-length business units; one selling modules and the other investing in projects. The projects business typically sat with GW-levels of owned assets, but ownership was basically a short-term affair, and sites built (by sub-contracted EPCs) would be flipped relatively quickly, and often to shore up cash reserves for ongoing future investments.”

In the UK, Canadian Solar previously “made its mark” as a project developer during the days of the feed-in tariff and Renewable Obligation Certificates, Colville continued. Between 2015 and 2018 it developed more than 30 sites and almost 170MW of capacity.

It largely bought consented sites, and then used European EPCs to build them, achieve accreditation and then sell them on. Of these, more than half used modules from other companies, most often Chinese producers Risen and Talesun said Colville.

In 2017, it placed its 142MW portfolio on the market and in 2018 it sold it to Greencoat Renewables for a total of £191.2 million.

“The breaking news regarding the Mallard Pass plans are coming at a time when Canadian Solar is going through a significant corporate change,” continued Colville.

“The company is soon to split out its manufacturing operations into an entity to be called CSI Solar that will be listed in China. The projects business (possibly excluding Chinese project investments) will then remain within the ‘new’ Canadian Solar. This now offers the context for the current plans in the UK, both at Mallard and across other smaller sites.

“Canadian Solar has an excellent track record globally in developing solar farms, and has been the standout Chinese entity in this regard for the past decade (especially when looking at dual manufacturing/downstream entities). Therefore, this clearly adds weight to the current Mallard Pass plans, and keeps other leading module suppliers very much in the game when any site ground-breaking commences.”

Mallard Pass Solar Farm is the latest in a string of solar NSIPs announced recently, including a 500MW solar and energy storage park in Lincolnshire announced in October that is being considered by Low Carbon. Additionally, there is the 120MW Little Crow Solar Farm put forward by Hampshire-based INRG Solar in 2018, Longfield Solar Energy Farm in Essex registered in 2020 and the 163MW Oaklands Solar Farm registered by BayWa r.e. in September 2021.

The only site to have yet gained approval is the 350MW Cleve Hill Solar Farm, which was acquired by Quinbrook in September 2021 and renamed to Project Fortress.