Thursday 23 May 2024
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UK’s biggest solar farm could be next to Nottinghamshire village

Consultation has begun this week on a massive solar farm near Newark, which would be larger than any currently operating in the UK.

The Great North Road Solar Park is just one of the ambitious energy schemes proposed for Nottinghamshire in recent months.,

The scheme, planned for an area north-west of Newark, could generate up to 800MW and could power 400,000 homes – equivalent to the whole of Nottinghamshire.

But there have been concerns over the vast areas of agricultural land that would be used, and some plans have faced local opposition or been rejected by planners.

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Proposals for Great North Road Solar Farm near Newark

However, the area seems to have become attractive to solar developers, with the government increasingly pushing green energy projects in order to meet its Net Zero targets.

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Developers say they can prevent the release of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions.

However Councillor Sue Saddington (Con) has seen several solar proposals in her Muskham ward near Newark, and is worried about the long-term impact.

“I understand the benefits of not having to rely on other countries for power, but we need to think about how much agricultural land we’re giving up,” she said.

“Shouldn’t we be putting solar panels on every school, hospital and public building first?

“People come to live in the countryside for the views, and don’t want solar farms everywhere they look.

“I wonder if people who own these fields are seeing a new source of income that’s more profitable than agriculture? We can’t blame them for trying to diversify.

“I would urge everyone to take part in the consultation for the GNR solar park. Some people may be in favour, but I have received a great number of emails from people who aren’t happy.”

The very thing many of Nottinghamshire’s rural residents value about their homes – open countryside – can be the thing that draws developers to the area.

Newark and Sherwood District Council recently refused permission for two large solar farms which covered nearly 145 acres of countryside.

A 60-hectare farm was also approved on Green Belt land in Rushcliffe district.

For some developers choosing where to put a solar farm, it is a simple matter of geography, as they ideally need a nearby substation to connect to the national grid.

“A key factor influencing the location of GNR Solar Park is the availability of a connection at National Grid’s Staythorpe substation,” developer Elements Green said.

“As the coal-fired power stations in the area have closed down, this has created capacity in the grid, allowing GNR Solar Park to carry on the tradition of power generation the area using a clean, renewable resource.”

In Bassetlaw, the closure of the West Burton A power station has led to capacity for another energy of the future – the world’s first fusion power plant.

Nottinghamshire’s farming reputation may also be working against it, as a study by the University of Sheffield found that good quality farmland was more likely to be closer to the necessary grid connections.

CPRE, the countryside charity, agreed that “valuable farmland” has now become “the location of choice for solar developments”.

For residents looking to oppose solar farms in their community, government guidance can be vague.

Ideally they should avoid “best and most versatile” agricultural land and Green Belt land, but there are “no hard and fast rules”.

While smaller projects are decided at district level by a planning committee, larger ones which generate over 50MW are designated Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

They are decided by the Secretary of State for Energy (currently Claire Coutinho), and there is a presumption in favour of them.

Government targets state the UK should have 70GW of solar power by 2035 – a big step up from 15GW in 2023.

It claims that the north and Midlands have historically had less than their share of solar projects, with 43 per cent of those approved or operating being located in the south.

A solar farm requires roughly six to eight acres per MW, leading to immense footprints for major projects, which require space for inverters and storage batteries as well as panels.

Nottinghamshire residents will get to have their say on the GNR solar park proposals until Tuesday, February 27, with more consultation held in the future.

Project Director Mark Noone said: “We believe that local communities have an important role to play in helping to inform and influence how our proposals for GNR Solar Park evolve.

“We want to deliver this project responsibly and are committed to consulting as widely and efficiently as possible, working together with residents, businesses and community organisations to improve and enhance our proposals as our plans for the project progress.”

Details of village hall and online events are available on the GNR website.

The demand for green energy is likely to only increase the volume of solar applications across the country.

With most solar farms designed to last for 40 years, the decisions that are made around them will have long-lasting consequences for local residents.

•  Half the land in a Nottinghamshire parish could become a solar farm

•  Plans for massive solar farm to power 1,100 Nottinghamshire homes

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