An image of the Fox Covert solar farm. Image: Low Carbon.
An image of the Fox Covert solar farm. Image: Low Carbon.

The UK government has delayed a decision on the 500MW solar-plus-storage Sunnica Energy Farm until 11 April 2024.

The project, which is deemed a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) due to a generation output exceeding 50MW, aims to construct a large-scale solar farm and co-located battery storage asset in Sunnica East and Sunnica West on the Suffolk-Cambridgeshire border.

Alongside solar and battery storage, the project will also include three 132kV private substations, and a 132kV cable route will need to be laid to connect the site to the Burwell National Grid Substation. Horizontal Directional Drilling will create the 16 kilometres of cabling required, as it may cross challenging infrastructure such as train lines and dual carriageways. 

Due to being an NSIP, the secretary of state, Claire Coutinho, must decide whether to grant a development consent order (DCO) for the project. Yesterday (7 March), Coutinho said the decision to set the new deadline was “without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant or refuse development consent”.

It is worth noting that this is now the third time a decision has been delayed on the Sunnica Energy Farm, with an original decision expected to have been made in late September 2023.

You can find the plans for both Sunnica East and West below.

NSIP process subject to reform by government

The current NSIP process involves six key stages. These include pre-application, acceptance, pre-examination, examination, recommendation and decision, and post-decision. The process is conducted by the Planning Inspectorate, a government agency which became responsible for NSIPs under the Localism Act in 2011.

Last year, the government announced its intention to reform the NSIP process and outlined several reasons why it is needed. One such reason was the increase in the average length of time for a case to reach a decision, as seen with Sunnica Energy Farm. The government said that DCOs increased by 65% between 2012 and 2021 from 2.6 to 4.2 years.

This was highlighted in the consultation with reforms set to cover operational reforms to support a faster consenting process, recognising the role of local communities and strengthening engagement and boosting system capability to ensure the UK can build a more diverse and resilient resourcing model.

The consultation opened on 25 July and closed on 19 September 2023.

Solar Power Portal’s publisher Solar Media will host the UK Solar Summit on 4-5 June 2024 in London. The event will explore UK’s new landscape for utility and rooftop solar, looking at the opportunities within a GW+ annual market, and much more. For more information, go to the website.