Southcombe Farm in the village of Shebbear has recently become one of the latest farms in Devon to rent out a small percentage of its land to solar power generator, Lightsource Renewable Energy. The land will now accommodate a solar farm generating 1.2 MW of green energy (the equivalent of enough energy for around 391 households, which is approximately 80% of Shebbear Parish) and annual CO2 savings of 667,395 kg — the equivalent of taking 148 cars off the road each year. Lightsource has consulted closely with both Shebbear Parish Council and Torridge District Council from the inception of the project.
Lightsource first contacted Shebbear Parish Council with a view to setting up a community meeting back in July 2012. Local residents were invited to attend so they could hear about fledgling plans for the new solar farm, ask questions and raise any concerns they might have. A number of people did attend, but no formal objections were submitted as a result of the meeting. On the basis of this, Lightsource then went on to draw up and submit a formal planning application to Torridge District Council.
The district council itself then wrote to local residents, and also approached other consultees – including English Heritage – for their views. Once again, no formal objections to the new solar farm were raised. The council did, however, insist on a number of conditions being met before final planning approval was granted at the end of November 2012. The conditions required Lightsource to put forward detailed plans for construction management, environmental management and planting.
The plans will ensure that important considerations such as management of site traffic and clearing of mud on public roads will all be dealt with properly. Lightsource will also be retaining all existing hedgerows and trees, and planting new hedgerows for screening and meadowland to promote biodiversity. In addition, a badger sett was identified on site during the planning process, so Lightsource has made sure that no works will be carried out or panels installed within the 30m of the sett. The solar farm will be constructed on low-grade agricultural land and a new swale created to manage any surface water run off that may occur.
Conor McGuigan, Business Development Director for Lightsource, comments, “When we develop a new solar farm, we are entering into an agreement with the landowner and council for a period of some 25 years. We are therefore required to demonstrate that we will treat both the land and our neighbours with due respect in order to gain planning permission. For this reason it is clearly in our own best interests to work with the council and address local concerns collectively. We take great care to make as little impact as possible during the construction phase, and put in place appropriate measures to encourage and protect local wildlife – such as with the badgers at Southcombe Farm.”
Any farmer or landowner with a site of at least 6 acres wishing to discuss its suitability as a solar farm should contact 0333 200 0755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.