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Massive solar farms planned to treble energy generated from sun in UK

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: May 17, 2010

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A £40 million network of "sun farm" solar power stations could be rolled out across parts of the Westcountry.

Backers of the plans say the facilities would treble the amount of energy generated from the sun in the UK.

Ten sites are planned for locations across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, with the first being built on a 15-acre site between St Kew and St Mabyn in North Cornwall. It is hoped, subject to planning permission, that it will start generating power in April 2011.

Jon Vidler, project co-ordinator for Benbole Energy Farm (BEF), which is behind the scheme, said if everything goes to plan seven other "silicon vineyards" will be rolled out across Cornwall, with two others on the Isles of Scilly. In total they would generate 20MW of electricity, enough to power 10,000 homes.

"We are trying to make this a worthy project for the whole of Cornwall," he said.

"Apart from the panels themselves, everything else will be Cornish-made.

He added: "Cornwall, with its abundance of energy resources, has a history of pioneering new technologies and industries, from the days of trading tin and coal to installing the first commercial windfarm in the country in the early 1990s. Cornwall's optimum environment makes it the default choice to be the national hub for the technology that is set to bring the UK's energy mix into the 21st century."

At present, the UK produces just 10MW of solar power. The farms, if all 10 are completed, will generate 20MW, enough to power 10,000 homes.

BEF is working with Penzance-based Renewable Energy Cooperative (R-ECO) to specify design and install the 2MW solar photovoltaic (PV) farm in North Cornwall. The company said each panel stands no-more than 2m high, which it hopes will allow it to avoid the sort of objections raised to wind farms in the South West.

Mr Vidler said the company hoped that a series of smaller farms would allow local communities to have a stake in the schemes, providing power for local homes as well as for the national grid.

Interest in solar power is growing, especially since the former Labour government introduced "feed-in tariffs in April, a 25-year scheme that pays generators of renewable energy for every unit of electricity generated and makes it more attractive to investors.

The firm also has aspirations to go further, to address a lack of renewables manufacturing in the UK.

"After the fifth project we hope to have enough money to open a manufacturing plant in Cornwall," he said.

"But the whole concept (of small local solar power farms) can be run up to the top of Scotland."

The project was praised by Regen SW, the renewable energy agency for the South West.

"With its high levels of solar radiation, Cornwall is the best place in the country for solar PV, and it's very encouraging to now see a number of major projects coming forward," said Merlin Hyman, Regen SW's chief executive.

"This general change in direction is very encouraging, and it will provide cutting-edge new jobs in industries of the future. It's one of a number of steps forward that must be taken if we're serious about moving away from our reliance on limited fossil fuels towards clean, sustainable, locally-sourced energy in the South West."

Planning is also underway on a £15 million solar park, covering between 20 and 40 acres, to be built on council-owned land close to RAF St Mawgan and Newquay Airport.

The park will be used to power council facilities, including the airport, and produce 5MW of power through a series of static solar panels, suspended horizontally in the field, and used to harness the sun's energy.

Cornwall Council's environmental experts, who are behind the project, hope development on the first solar farm of its kind in the country will be completed within two years.

It is hoped the solar farm would pay for itself within a decade, creating revenue for other council services.

A shift away from wind farms in the drive for renewable energy could help ease tensions in the battle between the apparent need to combat climate change and fears over the impact on the countryside, which has created divisions in the Westcountry.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has said it would be better for solar panels to be placed in urban areas, but that they could be acceptable in some rural areas, depending on their impact on the landscape.

Its Cornish branch has already called for a moratorium on the development of wind farms in the Westcountry which it fears are wreaking "irrevocable harm" on the natural environment.

The Western Morning News reported in February how the group's new policy statement stated: "The environment of Cornwall is unique and highly appreciated.

"It attracts many visitors to the county and is a major economic strength."

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  • yveyk  |  January 13 2013, 3:06PM

    Every solar farm that is built on Green field sites are stealing food acreage from the public. It is irresponsible to use food land for growing electricity we can't eat. I pass several of these eyesores and am disgusted that someone has been allowed this liberty with the land. One I know of, the farmer has always been bone idle and obviously he thinks this is how to make a quick buck. I would like to fly low over all of them and spray them with paint so they couldn't generate any power. Then get them removed and the land restored to production of food. I don't object to windmills - you can graze stock below them and grow stuff around them, andthey look better than pylons.

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  • yveyk  |  January 11 2013, 6:28PM

    I object strongly to any attempt to build solar farms on farm land. I have no objection to them being sited on brown field sites, but with a growing population and the need to be self sufficient in food, isn't it criminal to take valuable growing land out of productions to feed the greed of a few farmers who have no respect for the land or the proper use of it.

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    William, Scotland  |  January 17 2011, 8:36PM

    I think Solar farms are brilliant, both creating electricity from daylight radiation (and not sunlight dispite common belief) and creating much needed jobs i'n an economy which is suffering. Such technologies at micro levels are putting the power back i'n the hands of the communities and electric will one day decrease i'n price.

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    Mike, Truro  |  May 21 2010, 10:48AM

    Sussex and Kent on average every year get more hours of sun, is this part of that ' man made global warming' rubbish and we are to blame for natural weather changes.

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    Dooby, West Cornwall  |  May 19 2010, 8:30AM

    To Neil, West Cornwall. 'Is Cornwall leading the way on new technology?' Well no, not quite, as they've been doing this in the Orkney Islands for a few years now, but runners up for Cornwall isn't bad. We agree on one thing, congratulations on using renewable, natural, local resources, and adding a little diversity to the economy down here. Good times ahead for west Cornwall.

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    Kernowpatsy, Redruth  |  May 18 2010, 6:44PM

    With the rise of renewables, this news gives me a sense pride when i think cornwall is again at the forefront of what could be seen as the next industrial revolution. Too many people have been coming to cornwall and exploiting it's resources now it's time for us to stand up and be counted in this new exciting era of energy! If we don't do it then someone else will.

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    Patsy Kernow, Redruth  |  May 18 2010, 6:41PM

    With the rise of renewables, this news gives me a sense pride when i think cornwall is again at the forefront of what could be seen as the next industrial revolution. Too many people have been coming to cornwall and exploiting it's resources now it's time for us to stand up and be counted in this new exciting era of energy! If we don't do it then someone else will.

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    Jon Vidler, Camelford  |  May 18 2010, 2:02PM

    If you look closely at the numbers given, it is 5MW solar farm. a 5MW farm will generate though the Feed-In-Tarriff and export rates, £1.6million per year. If the project costs £15million then it will pay back in the ninth year. And that brings me onto the second point, the cost. If it costs £15million, then that is £3 per Watt. At this scale the costs are likely to fall towards the £2 per Watt mark. This brings the payback time nearer 5 to 6 years. And you are forgetting that it is not a dead expense, it is an investment. It brings back a 10%+ zero risk return on the councils investment, bringing £30,000,000 profit by the end of the systems lifespan. What can £30,000,000 buy? New hospitals, schools and some change left over. Would you rather the council gamble their money on foregin stock markets, Icelandic banks or invest it in secure Cornish owned industry? Secondly, the whole point is that once the technologies are being installed on a massive scale, the subsequent farms will be cheaper and cheaper, and make them more affordable for homeowners too. This is the birth of an industry in Cornwall, will create a wealth of jobs and eventually could lead to the solar panels themselves being made here. Finally, where as fossil fuel energy is going to get increasingly more expensive, renewable energy prices will be lower as there is no ongoing costs to provide the power.

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    Neil, West Cornwall  |  May 18 2010, 1:13PM

    This IS positive news. This country and the world will have greater issues in providing power to domestic and commercial customers as fossil fuels diminish - there is a predicted gap in energy forecasted for 2017 which is why the Labour government put full weight behind the construction of 7 nuclear power plants in the UK only last Autumn. If, therefore someone can off-set the consumption of 'brown' energy with renewable sources using a government subsidy and help the wealth of Cornwall in the process then GREAT! There are 500,000 people living in Cornwall and if these sites will power 10,000 homes (assuming 4 people at each home) that's 8% of our domestic power secure! Add into that wind and wave energy we could actually be the only place in the Country that has energy in 2017? Having done some research, this first site will produce 4 million units of electricity per annum, in one year! The feed-in tariff only started last month - will this be the first site in the UK?? Is Cornwall leading the way on new technology?? Congratulate I say, congratulate!

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    max power, st austell  |  May 17 2010, 8:44PM

    Germany is one of the most advanced country in the world for renewable energy, PV farms are heavily subsidised by high feed in tariffs. Hailed 'a shining example in providing a harvest for the world' (Guardian, who else?) However conclusions drawn from this experiment include 'we would instead regard the country¿s experience as a cautionary tale of massively expensive environmental and energy policy that is devoid of economic and environmental benefits.' So excuse my scepticism at (just) £15million? and 'profit after a decade?' As the double whammy of council tax and higher power costs bites for supporting these renewables perhaps we should consider April 1st an apt day for introducing FITs and hand the project over to the R&D dept. for improvement?