Plans for a 13.4MW solar farm near Eynsham in David Cameron’s constituency of Witney have been given the go-ahead by local planners.
The proposals, put forward by Solarcentury, will see solar modules installed across 25 hectares of land at Salutation Farm which borders the A40 between Witney and Eynsham.
Solarcentury expects the 13.4MW solar farm to generate enough electricity to power around 4,000 homes a year, negating the emission of 175,000 tonnes of CO2 in the process.
During the consultation period, local residents expressed support for the solar scheme with support for the planning application outweighing those against by 11 to one.
Commenting on the public’s appetite for solar farm developments, Frans van den Heuvel, CEO at Solarcentury noted that company’s experience with locals affected by solar farms was “a million miles away from the unhelpful stereotyping of solar parks presented by some MPs and parts of the media”.
At the Eynsham site, Solarcentury has worked on maximising the benefit for wildlife on the solar farm; local biodiversity will be boosted with the planting of a wildflower meadow that is designed to encourage a greater variety of birds, butterflies and bees. As for the visual impact of the site, the developer has committed to planting hedging and trees to shield the site from view.
Van den Heuvel added that it was these kind of measures that the public respond to, he said: “The reality is if you get the site, mitigation and biodiversity right, local people and their representatives will welcome such developments.”
However, the government has appeared to temper its ambition for ground-mounted solar after a surprise revision of strike prices for large-scale solar developments under the contracts for difference scheme.
At the British Photovoltaic Association’s Christmas reception on Wednesday, energy and climate change minister Greg Barker reiterated that the government will not accept “inappropriately developed ground-mounted arrays”.
However, despite ministerial warnings, the solar industry remains buoyant about the future of large-scale solar developments in the UK as the market stands on the cusp of 3GW of capacity installed. Solarcentury’s planning partner, David Grindley of Savills Energy explained that “good site selection is critical and challenging. The park needs to be sited near a suitable grid connection, it can’t be too disruptive during construction, and it has to be well screened once built”.
Solarcentury will begin construction of the solar farm during mid-December and aims to complete the site before the renewable obligation rates change in April.