We’re opposing the Sunnica Solar Farm

We strongly support the principle of increased provision of renewable power, but have to oppose the proposed Sunnica Solar Farm

Solar, wind and energy storage, alongside reductions in consumption and increased energy efficiency are vital to avert a climate catastrophe.

However large scale installations must be done right, and the proposed Sunnica Farm is huge: 500MW and comparable in size to the City of Cambridge. It would be the largest in the UK

We’re opposing the Sunnica Solar Farm, as currently proposed, unless changes are made, and the LEGALLY BINDING OBLIGATIONS below are imposed to enforce these

You can download this document to see the detail of our response. The document includes lots of links to useful references on how to design GOOD “dual use” schemes, for example combining energy production with agriculture or with biodiversity.

5MW Blay Farm project from PS Renewables (owners of Sunnica)

Sunnica’s approach to community engagement and consultation has been disgracefully poor. Their underlying business model implies that the scheme may well change ownership several times during the lifetime of the project, while Sunnica merely manage it. Given this business model and behaviour to date, we would only support the Sunnica scheme if the following obligations are made legally enforceable

We would want to see the following legally binding obligations

Dual use, energy + Agriculture

Appropriate land use

  • No use of grade 1 ‘excellent quality’ or grade 2 ‘very good’ agricultural land
  • If good quality Grade 3 agricultural land is to be used, the priority must be to manage it for agro-voltaics[i], ie a dual use agriculture (typically vegetable growing or sheep) and energy production. This will require the involvement of real farming expertise, so should only be permitted if there is evidence of the involvement of a keen landowner/farmer.
  • Panels allowed on moderate quality grade 3 and poor quality 4 agricultural land unless the site is a valuable habitat for priority species such as Stone Curlew.
Dual Use: energy + Biodiversity and Habitats

Biodiversity gain and minimisation of visual impact

  • Appropriate height woodland/hedging to be planted around the sites, to reduce the visual impact of the sites and help meet national targets for woodland creation and biodiversity. 
  • 25% of site to be allocated and managed to improve habitats, biodiversity and carbon sequestration, aiming for at least 20% biodiversity net gain over the whole development using a recognised biodiversity metric (such as the Warwickshire Biodiversity Impact Assessment calculator)
  • Remainder of the site to be managed to steadily improve net soil health, in preparation for when/if the land is returned for agricultural use. 
  • Land management regimes put in place, with the necessary expertise and monitoring to deliver on “promises of biodiversity net gain.”

Significant financial benefit for community

  • As the proposed scheme is the UK’s largest, at over 500MW solar, plus revenue from grid balancing services, the financial benefits to the community must also be very substantial. For example, new Scottish renewables projects are required to provide a package of community benefits with a value equivalent to at least £5k/MW/yr[ii] rising with inflation for the life of the project.  For a 500MW scheme, this would result in payments of at least £2.5Million pa to the local community, increasing with inflation for the life of the project.
  • This could do a lot to improve the local quality of life and sustainability. For example, funding the creation of safe cycling routes to schools and public transport hubs, or providing grants to improve the energy efficiency of people’s homes.

[i] https://www.goodenergy.co.uk/media/1096/delabole-solar.pdf

[ii] https://localenergy.scot/community-benefits-map/