Solarcentury has been given planning permission for a 7.6MW extension on an existing 700kWp ground-mounted array in Illminster, Somerset.

The approved plans will see a further 31,200 solar modules added to the existing 3,000 module site, covering over 20 hectares of land. Once completed, the site will become one of the largest solar installations in the South West, the UK's hotbed of large-scale solar development thanks to its high levels of sunshine.

The proposal was approved by South Somerset District Council by a clear majority. District Councillor Ric Pallister said following the decision that the council was forced to follow clear governmental guidelines which encourage renewable development, despite reservations which saw the proposed park shrink by 5,000 modules during the approval process.

However, some local groups have taken exception to the newly-approved solar park. Clare Hart, Stocklish Parish Councillor and a local campaigner against the solar farm extension, said the glare from the panels may prove hazardous for the neighbouring A303. Speaking to This is Somerset, Hart said:  “We were told there were no planning reasons to turn it down and that councillors had to make a decision with their heads and not their hearts. Instead of just over 41,000 panels there will be 37,000. We are grateful for that but still quite frustrated.”

As a result of their frustrations, the handful of protesters are considering seeking a judicial review against South Somerset District Council’s decision. Commenting on the threat of legal action, Solarcentury told Solar Power Portal: “The Council's legal advice was that this application should proceed so it is unclear until we see the details on what basis a judicial review could be granted.”

The company explained why it chose to build a >5MW solar extension under the renewable obligation (RO) rather than the feed-in tariff (FiT): “Solar Farms became attractive to investors under the FiT scheme and since the reductions to FiTs earlier this year they are now being constructed under the RO mechanism, the same scheme which has formed the support mechanism for large wind projects and other large scale renewable schemes over the previous decade.”

Following the downturn of the residential market after prohibitive new FiT legislation, the UK solar industry has been increasingly returning to large-scale solar financed under the RO scheme. However, DECC is currently consulting over slashing the RO banding rate down from 2ROCs to 1.5ROCs come March 2013. 

Commenting on the plans, a spokesperson for Solarcentury said: “As with all technologies being used to generate renewable energy under the RO, DECC regularly reviews the specific level of incentives and solar PV is under review at this point.  As a result we hope that the reduction in the level of support from April 2013 will do no more than reflect falling costs rather than to a level that could act as a brake on the market next financial year. 

“We are expecting the final DECC decision on the level of RO support for solar PV to 2017 to be confirmed next month.”

As for the future, Solarcentury told Solar Power Portal that it will continue to focus on commercial and large scale opportunities, with the domestic sector being served through their distribution service and growing installer network.