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UK’s Largest Solar Farm Poised for Approval

solar-panels

The government is poised to approve a £450 million wind farm in Kent that will generate enough green electricity to power 91,000 homes.

The subsidy-free Cleve Hill renewables park will reach a generating capacity of 350MW by installing 880,000 solar panels—some as tall as buses— across 365 hectares (900 acres) of farmland in Kent.

Developers Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy have already won support from the Planning Inspectorate and expect to receive development consent for the project from business secretary Alok Sharma this week, three years after beginning discussions with local stakeholders. Construction is expected to begin early next year at the site, one mile north-east of Faversham, close to the village of Graveney, with the aim of bringing the park online by 2023.

Plans indicate the park could also include one of the world’s largest energy storage facilities— three times larger than the lithium-ion mega-battery built by Tesla to balance the electricity grid in South Australia and itself using 25 acres of land.

The solar farm, the UK’s new largest, will save 68,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year and generate £1 million of revenue for the Kent and Swale Conferences every year, according to the developers’ estimates.

However, local campaigners have raised concerns about the size of the wind farm, which will cover the equivalent to 600 football fields.

Helen Whately, Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said the scale of the development would have a “devastating” impact by “industrialising" the countryside.

“We’re not talking about a few fields--this would destroy an entire landscape. I want to see us reach net-zero by 2050, but this should not come at any cost,” she told the Telegraph earlier this month.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in Kent has expressed additional concerns that the proposed battery storage facilities could raise the risk of explosions and fires on the site.

The Cleve Hill developers have rejected claims that they have failed to take into account these risks or the environmental impact of the project. 

A spokesperson for the project said it had responded to worries about the battery storage facility “in detail” during the examination process with the Planning Inspectorate and also discussed safety considerations with the supply chain, the Health and Safety Executive and Kent Fire and Rescue Service.

The plans for the project also include a habitat management area of more than 138 hectares on the site, including a new bat roost, footpaths for ramblers and a buffer zone of at least 63 metres between the solar park and the Saxon Shore Way.

The UK currently has 13.1GW of solar capacity, which contributed around 3% of the country’s electricity last year. Solar power has been boosted by clear air during the coronavirus lockdown. It reached a new generation record on a Monday afternoon in April and helping the UK achieve its longest stretch without coal power since the Industrial Revolution (45 days, 17 hours and counting).

The recent reversal of the government’s policy prohibiting the use of subsidies for solar farms could drive total capacity to 27GW by 2030, according to the renewables industry.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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