Biggest UK solar plant approved

By Roger Harrabin
BBC environment analyst

Image source, Hive Energy

The go-ahead has been given to the UK’s biggest solar farm, stretching 900 acres on the north Kent coast.

The government has approved the controversial scheme, which will supply power to 91,000 homes.

The project could include one of the world’s largest energy storage systems.

But it has been fiercely opposed by many local people, and it’s divided green groups. Greenpeace, the RSPB and the countryside charity CPRE are against the plan.

They say it’s industrialising the countryside - and may harm an adjacent wildlife site.

But Friends of the Earth offered qualified support, on the grounds that the current intensively-farmed land was bad for wildlife anyway.

Their spokesperson Mike Childs said: “No-one wants to see damage to local habitats, but this is not some lovely, untouched meadow.

“Changing the use of the site from intensive agriculture will reduce the high level of chemicals currently harming insects and wildlife - but we have to hold the developers to account”.

Rooftop panels?

Environmentalists want the developers to offer free rooftop solar panels to local people who are protesting against the solar farm – and especially against the giant energy storage unit, which they fear may prove an explosion risk.

The facility will use 25 acres of the total land and the countryside charity CPRE says the proposed battery storage system has caused fires and explosions around the world.

The developers Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy say it’s safe. They maintain the subsidy-free project will be one of the lowest-cost power generators in the UK and will bring local councils £1m every year that it is running.

Cheap panels

In 2015, the government controversially announced it would phase out subsidies from solar power, to a howl of protest from the industry.

But the cost of solar panels has tumbled by two thirds since 2010.

The Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said the decision was taken after careful consideration – but said the project would be a world leader in solar and power storage.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin