Unless there are significant objections, there could be a commercial-scale solar farm established in Cresswell by the end of this year.
The solar-power company, Novus Solar Development, outlined their proposals at a one-day exhibition in the local church hall this week.
Sheep and solar
The idea is to build frames, each holding around forty solar energy panels, placed in wide rows across three fields on Lower Newton Farm.
Lower Newton Farm is reached by a long driveway, south off the road near the A50 bridge on Cresswell Old Lane. (See map of area and proposed site).
Because the panels are on raised frames (around two-and-a-half metres high), sheep can happily graze round them and even under them – and thus, what’s more, the fields are still in agricultural use at the same time.
The electricity generated from the panels will be transferred to the nearest 33kV pylon, about 300 yards away, by means of an underground cable – and from there will be carried on to the National Grid.
Lower Newton will be able to supply enough electricity to power over 3000 homes per year.
It sounds an interesting project – and one that will benefit the farmer, the company, the National Grid, and, of course, the environment. Solar power is one of the forms of sustainable energy that the authorities are trying to encourage: a project such as the Lower Newton one will attract government subsidy.
However, as with all big projects, questions remain. At the church hall exhibition, we put a series of queries to the representatives from Novus.
Q. Will there be a glare from the panels?
A. The panels, which are a dark blue-grey colour, are deliberately designed to absorb as much light as possible – so there is very little glint from them. Also, they are pitched at an acute angle of 25 degrees, so, the chance of reflection to observers is much smaller.
Q. Why choose this particular site?
A. We are constantly looking for appropriate sites, which are ones where visual impairment is low, and a connection to the Grid is cost-effective. This site is ideal.
Also, things have changed since the first solar farms – planners and communities are now very much up to speed on what they want to see with solar farms, so you have to meet their more knowledgeable demands too. Because Lower Newton Farm is in a kind of bowl, with very few properties near it, the view around it is very limited – which means it’s a better than usual spot for any nearby community.
What’s more, the land on these fields is classed as medium-to-poor soil, so that reserving the area to grazing sheep will not affect the agricultural balance of this area.
Q. How long do you expect to be around?
A. Well, planners will allow us no more than 25 to 35 years permission. But we expect that, unless there is some totally unforeseen development in the energy market, we will be here for the duration.
Q. Will there be much traffic to and from the site?
A. No – in fact hardly any at all! We will send in a maintenance person just to check things once every six months or so, but actually, we expect that, once it’s built, the system will look after itself virtually.
The Lower Newton farmers, Martin and Fiona Bostock, are fully behind the scheme; so I should think they will be keeping an eye on things too!
Q. Do solar panels have any major bad effects on wildlife?
A. No. As we’ve said, sheep will be grazing in and around the structures quite happily. In fact, there will be a net benefit for wildlife, as we are developing the edges of the fields and the hedgerows as wildlife-friendly areas. Expect to see owl-boxes put up there!
An environmentally-sound fence will run round the site though to prevent larger animals straying in.
Also, remember that the farmer is still responsible for caring for the land. We lease our rights to use the land from the farmers, yes; but they still have the duty to ensure all is well there.
Q. There is a public footpath that runs right through the fields you want to use. Will you be asking to divert the path?
A. No, the path stays where it is. What we will do is create a ten metre-wide dedicated thoroughfare, along which walkers can easily pass. A small fence will line each side of the path to show people where to go.
Q. How do you see the application going?
A. If there are no major objections, we will apply for planning permission quite soon. If all goes well after that, and we get permission, we’d hope to start putting up the structures September-ish, with a view to everything being in place by late autumn…
And, if anyone has other queries?
Tell them to write to us. Ed Jessamine is the person who is overseeing this project. We’re very keen to be as open as possible about this – so the more questions the better! (Email Ed Jessamine).
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