Emsrayne Ltd, a private sector renewable energy company, is currently seeking planning permission for a four megawatt solar farm in Caddington, Bedfordshire. Following the Government’s feed-in tariff (FiT) initiative to inspire small businesses to create local jobs and reduce CO2 emissions, the company has worked over the last nine months at a cost of circa £100,000 in order to develop the solar park.

At present, the project is being debated by the local planning authority at Central Bedfordshire council. If successful, the project has the potential to generate several benefits to the local community including the creation of many local jobs, the provision of solar panels for the local schools and the annual injection of £5,000 into a social fund for the 25-year lifetime of the plant. These links with local schools will also be used to provide lessons on how solar power works as part of the solar park has actually been designed with educational walks and amphitheatres for school trips in mind.

The project also has the potential to provide a large portion of Caddington’s energy, which is currently derived from fossil fuels.  

Although the company is currently awaiting a decision on the planning permission, serious thought has gone into the project thus far. Not only has the site been thoroughly examined in order to establish suitability, feasibility studies for different types of technology have also been considered.

Emsrayne has looked at both thin-film and crystalline solar panels for the project, although no decision has yet been made. Should crystalline modules be chosen, the plant will consist of 16,450 panels spread out in two horizontal rows running from east to west across the site. For the thin-film option, 41,064 panels will be deployed in six horizontal rows, again from east to west. The amount of thin-film modules will be significantly more than for crystalline, as the efficiency is not as high, however the cost is reduced for this technology.

The company recognizes that the size of panel varies from one manufacturer to another, and therefore the final dimensions of the array can not be finalised until the actual PV module has been selected. A layout example for the module options can be seen in the illustration below.

Once complete, the Caddington solar park will have cost somewhere in the region of £10 million, which is a serious investment in solar energy. To date, more than £100,000 has already been spent on the project; money which could be wasted if the Government decides to pull the plug on the backing for large-scale solar.

Paul O’Hara, Project Manager at Emsrayne said, “Caddington Solar Farm is one of the few ground-mounted solar PV projects that could be successfully connected to the grid in the short space of time that the Government have allowed to set schemes likes this in place – only made possible by the Government funding and initiative promise called the feed in tariff.”

“We understood that this would help to boost the figures on reducing carbon emissions and ultimately avoid costly penalties for not reaching the UK's targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 2020. The Government is now threatening to review the tariff and possibly reduce its support or worse, which will leave schemes like Caddington without funding or investment. The local schools will lose out on the educational and commercial support that we have promised, whilst over £100k of our company's investment would be completely wasted.”

“Jobs in the private sector could be created and we struggle to understand why this is not a priority to the government. They surely would allow committed projects that have evolved through government promises to realise their benefits. We do not believe that there are too many projects that could be in motion before April 2012 and question the Government’s motives for its announcement,” concluded O’Hara.

Understandably, Emsrayne is raising our strong objection towards any proposed early review which could lead to a reduction in the supposedly fixed tariff rates. If the proposed review occurs the company is of the strong opinion that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is abusing its power of authority by undermining a reasonable expectation over the tariff rates and therefore exposing itself to judicial review.

The threat of a review not only jeopardises renewable energy projects such as this, which in itself would result in the loss of all local and national benefits outlined above, but also totally undermines the local, national and international commitments that the UK Government has repeatedly pledged to meet.