Over 250 people are racing to complete the Wroughton Airfield solar farm almost a year after it was given the green light from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
The 50MW project, near Swindon, has been in development since 2012 but the developers behind the solar plant have faced objections from North Wessex Downs AONB and English Heritage since almost the beginning. Final approval was only granted in March last year when the development was called in by former secretary of state, Eric Pickles.
Construction began in earnest in mid-January on the joint development between Public Power Solutions (PPS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon Borough Council, and the Science Museum Group, which owns the former World War 2 airfield.
Hundreds of people are working on site to ensure it is connected to the grid by the end of March in the hope that it will fall within the 1.3 ROC grace period. The grid work was completed on the site late last year so a significant amount of work has already been completed in preparation for this final stage of construction.
Speaking to Solar Power Portal yesterday, James Owen, commercial director for Public Power Solutions, said: “It's like an ant farm. There are five distinct areas of construction so teams are going from one section to the next and so on, following each other round the site. We've got our own client-side project manager who's reviewing practices from our side and obviously the EPC guys have got their own project managers as well.
“Ours keeps reporting back to us that he's never seen a solar park being done at such speed and such control.”
The primary EPC on the project is British Renewables, which was selected for the job after delivering the 69.5MW Lyneham solar park in the same time frame last year.
David Peill, commercial director for the company, said: “BSR is delighted to be leading on the development of this fantastic project, and to be part of the team making the development a reality.
“BSR has been working on this project since the summer of last year, optimising the design to improve performance and buildability. We are now at the final stage of the EPC project which is the construction of the solar park. The team onsite and everyone involved are fully focused on delivering the project , which is due to be connected to the grid by the end of March”.
The level of control being asserted on site is also a reflection of standards set by the Science Museum Group, which Owen says is “very sensitive to poor practice”.
“It's probably one of the tightest managed solar park constructions from a client perspective,” he added.
The Wroughton site has grown to 50MW from the 41MW originally proposed following a non-material amendment to increase the site. Increased capacity has also been achieved through improvements in the technical specifications of the panels that have been developed while the site was stuck at the planning stage.
Once completed, community members will be offered the chance to invest directly in the site, while a benefit fund will be set up which will amount to around £50,000 a year, for the next 30 years, to be allocated by the community for local projects. A sustainable programme of ecological and biodiversity enhancements will also be established around the solar park.
“It’s great news that the construction of the farm is now underway. I’m really pleased that the end is in sight and that by the spring, Wroughton Airfield Solar Park will be generating enough clean electricity to supply over 15,400 homes,” Owen said.