It will be the size of 450 football pitches or the equivalent of 2 Hyde Parks and it’s set to be the biggest solar farm in the UK up till now, providing power for over a hundred thousand homes. If it gets built, of course.
Head to the north Kent coast, just down from the Isle of Sheppey and you’ll find the potential location for Cleve Hill Solar Park.
A proposal was made for the site back in November and because it’s so large there are some hurdles to overcome before anything gets the go ahead. Firstly, because of the sheer size, it’s the first solar energy farm in the UK to be designated as a NSIP or Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. What does that mean? It has to be signed off by the Government and in particular the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, currently run by Secretary of State Greg Clark.
There are also more than a few detractors who are worried about the impact the huge site is going to have on local wildlife. Nearby is the South Swale Nature Reserve and Kent Wildlife Trust has already raised concerns. According to the Trust:
“While we are not opposed to solar farms, and indeed are supportive of initiatives to reduce human reliance on fossil fuel energy generation, we are concerned about the potential impacts from this proposal on the internationally important habitats and wildlife in this area.”
That could mean there will be legal challenges once the full details of the solar farm construction are made publicly available.
It’s estimated that the new farm would have five times the capacity of any other in the UK and is seen as a welcome boost to an industry that has had its fair share of hurdles to get over recently. The farm is a collaboration between Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy and is also notable because it would be the first such installation to be built without the aid of Government subsidies. That in itself should warrant everyone in the UK backing it.
The sheer size of the project will mean that there is now going to be a lengthy consultation period and a series of events will be held throughout February 2018 to inform local interests. On their part, the companies involved in setting up the project believe that the new solar farm will bring a large number of benefits to the local region not least by generating income of around £1 million a year which will be used to improved amenities. The companies have also anticipated a potential appeal because of the impact on wildlife by introducing a dedicated mitigation area to protect bird species. Whether this will be enough to satisfy the Kent Wildlife Trust remains to be seen.
According to Hugh Brennan from Hive:
“The Cleve Hill Solar Park is a pioneering scheme that aims to optimise the technological developments in solar energy. Our ambition is to deliver the first non-subsidised renewables project of this scale, delivering low cost, clean, home-grown energy to power UK households.”
It’s also hoped that the installation at Cleve Hill will also utilise the latest battery storage technology with the help of Xero Energy, an energy consultancy firm based in Glasgow.