July 1, 2013

No EIA Required for the Rydon Farm Solar Park

Teignbridge District Council have today decided that no Environmental Impact Assessment will be needed for proposals to build two large scale solar PV arrays either side of Rydon Farm near Ogwell. Their decision letter is addressed to Orta Solar, although the "pre-application enquiry" also mentioned Steadfast Solar Limited. In it Teignbridge's case officer states that:

I have concluded that the proposal does not constitute EIA development as it is unlikely to have significant environmental effects.

The two parts of the proposed solar farm will supposedly generate 9 MW and 4 MW of electrical power when working at the peak of their respective capacities. The project follows what seems to be the standard pattern for this part of the world, covering a total of 27.6 hectares of largely grade 2 agricultural land that has a handy set of overhead electricity cables running across it. In this case those cables are rated at 11 kV.

With that hurdle out of the way I assume a planning application will follow at some point. Before shelling out a considerable sum of money for that, however, Orta may wish to watch this speech given in Cornwall recently by Greg Barker, Minister of State at the Department of Energy & Climate Change:

Note the bit where Greg reveals his "key message":

Solar is a genuinely exciting energy of the future, it is coming of age and we want to see a lot, lot more. But not at any cost… not in any place… not if it rides roughshod over the views of local communities.

and then points out that:

It must work for local communities, with sensible, sustainable design of new projects. And for larger deployments, brownfield land should always be preferred.

You can also read the full text of Greg's speech on the UK Government's web site.

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Comments on No EIA Required for the Rydon Farm Solar Park »

August 1, 2013

Nick Pascoe @ 2:41 pm

Hello Econnexxus Team,

I'm writing more than a little puzzled over the concern you appear to be showing for Solar PV. I've dedicated the last 8yrs of my career to trying to reduce the carbon content of electricity generation and am very proud of the solar farms we've developed at Orta and at Low Carbon Solar before that. We create these farms under a painfully rigorous planning regime and to my mind we're both creating low carbon electricity in carefully chosen and well sited places AND creating small nature reserves where flora & fauna can return to a small piece of land taken out of intensive agriculture. There are surveys available that demonstrate the return flora / fauna and also surveys available to demonstrate how 'bleached green', devoid of wildlife are typical intensively farmed area's of our landscape.

Struggling to understand the antipathy towards Solar PV from a Team that i would have thought should have been all for it? Please call me anytime for a chat, we're friendly nice people and don't bite.

Nick

Nick Pascoe @ 2:49 pm

I should also have said that of the 20 plus Solar farms we've developed thus far, the views of the local communities are overwhelmingly positive. Come along to any one of our community meetings that we hold for each Solar Farm and you'll find that typically 7 out of 10 people are positive about the project, 2 on the fence and 1 absolutely hates it. People tend to arrive at the events concerned, but after chatting it through over a cup of tea and realising that they'll typically not be able to see it when hidden behind a hedgerow, people are generally comfortable or distinctly positive.
There is no riding roughshod over the views of the local community, it just is not like that. I'm sure that there will have been some projects that either are unfortunate enough to be located near to someone who hates it and is energetic enough to form a group to lobby against, or are poorly located in the first place. But my team and i have had only one experience of the former in 3 years of delivering Solar Farms and no experience of the latter just yet.

Nick

Jim @ 4:44 pm

Hi Nick,

In brief, my own primary objection is to the construction of solar PV parks on what the planners refer to as "our best and most versatile agricultural land". For some background on that see for example "Time for the Food Versus Fuel Debate?".

It also seems to me to make more sense technically for solar PV generation to take place near where the electricity will be consumed rather than "in the middle of nowhere".

Jim

August 4, 2013

Nick Pascoe @ 10:09 am

Hi Jim,

In that case i think we're in largely agreement. Addressing the first point, the BMV definition is applied to Grade 1,2 & 3a land. To find out what grade a particular piece of land is (at a field by field scale) you can start with the Agricultural Land Classification maps hosted on the Natural England website to get an initial indication. However, read carefully the caveat that Nat England state on their website, essentially that the classification was carried out (in the 60's & 70's) for geo-spacial planning purposes (Read TIN049, page2). To actually determine the cropping quality of a particular set of fields you must undertake a specific Agricultural Study taking into account the topography, cropping history and specifics of those fields. When hunting for sites we set out to find fields that are discrete, mostly lower grade grassland, near the 33kV power distribution network and not surrounded by neighbours who may be adversely affected. Occasionally farmers call us and ask us to come along as was the case at Rydon.

In recent weeks, responsible large scale Solar Farming developers have signed up to 10 Commitments that includes not developing PV Farming on BMV land. Please do realise that along with not including AONB, National Parks, Grade 1,2 & 3a land, being limited (by economics now) to South of the M4 and the necessity to be close to fast running out capacity within the 33kV network, good Solar PV farming location are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Also, please understand that the total 10GW ambition for large scale Solar PV in the UK by 2020 (although the Govt have recently pushed this downwards toward 4GW) would cover 50,000 acres, less than 1% of England's agricultural land, as compared with 1,700,000 acres of Oil Seed Rape grown last year (for instance). Check how much BMV land in the UK is already being use for Energy growing purposes (rape, biomass, biofuel liquids etc) and you'll find that Solar PV is a pin prick.

Nick Pascoe @ 10:29 am

Re the 2nd point, we generate power at 33kV, a mid-high voltage used to transport power around counties by the Distribution Network operators. Typically we'll connect into an overhead 33kV line supported on wooden poles and our electricity then travels along those wires up to say 5 to 10 miles maximum to the nearest 11/33 primary substation. At that point, the electricity is transformed down to 11kV which then spreads it out locally to farms, factories and houses etc. You'll see 11kV to low voltage transformers mounted on poles outside most farms for instance. This is VERY close to the point of use.

The brown power that you're using at home may have travelled 200 miles or more perhaps from coal fired power stations in the Midlands and will have had to be transformed up to 132kV or 415kV to travel that distance. Losses are huge when covering distances, did you know that 50% of electricity generated by these coal fed central power stations is lost in conversion, transmission, & distribution losses?

I'd argue that your point is incorrect and that ANY electricity generated and connected to the 33kV (or 11kV) network, whether that is wind, hydro, solar or landfill gas methane generation), is VERY close to the point of use when compared with the vast bulk of electricity in the UK generated centrally (whether coal, gas, Nuclear, very large offshore wind or large scale biomass) and forced to travel great distances at very high voltage losing half of it in the process.

Nick

Jim @ 1:09 pm

Hi Nick,

Re point 1, I'm pleased to hear that we're in agreement on this matter. I also note that all the links to the MAGIC website on our SW solar PV map seem to have been broken by the recent upgrade!

Taking Rydon Farm as an example, and entering all the details into MAGIC manually for the moment, Rydon Farm looks as though it's not yet classified "Post 1988", and to be largely on grade 2 land in the old scheme of things. Is it in fact "lower grade grassland"?

For my views on biofuels try clicking the link in my previous comment. Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right?

Re point 2, I'm very familiar with the way the UK National Grid "works", and WPD's current grid connection quotations in this neck of the woods. I'm not suggesting that you compare solar "farms" with "the vast bulk of electricity in the UK". Have you instead tried comparing the economics of solar farms "South of the M4" with solar PV installed in the South of Spain, or with solar PV installed on UK rooftops for that matter?

Finally, if large scale "agricultural" solar PV is only ever going to be a mere "pin prick" on the UK's future energy needs, why bother in the first place?

Nick Pascoe @ 10:37 pm

Hi Jim, 1 by 1,
- Magic now only shows grading (& AONB) at larger scale as was intended by the original survey (contact them for confirmation)
- i think i've answered the next point, but the agricultural survey shows that the fields we're planning to use have topography that does not suit arable cropping (try driving a combine on a slope) and that some portion of it may indeed qualify as grade 2 (we did not seek this location, the farmer called us, the land is long term grassland with small field sizes. Suggest you research the reality, cost of and amount of chemical required to turn long term grassland in small hilly fields into economically productive arable farmland. Note that the Solar Farm land allows sheep grazing once the Solar farm is built and as it is temporary, the land is not lost). Note that we're rejecting any clearly grade 1 or 2 sites now that the 10 commitments have been devised (just a few weeks ago) and have been very sceptical about such sites since starting this in 2010.
- re biofuels, arable biomass is great in my view. Our land has always and will always be used for growing both fuel (trees) and food but certainly i'd agree with you that in some locations incentives have pushed the fuels too far (but mind you, have you researched the amount of unused land in the UK or the vastness of the unused grade 1 land in Eastern Europe? I've spent some time there and it is astonishing that millions of hectares of basically beautiful black 'growbag' type soils are left to weeds)
- Solar Farms in the south of Spain suffer from a loss of efficiency due to heat in the PV panels that make the UK not as far behind as you may think (ask any experienced PV manager about that). And what good to the UK is electricity production in Spain? Fantastic where Solar is installed on UK rooftops, even better than UK Solar Farming in terms of electrical losses. BUT rooftops and Solar Farming feeding the very local 33kV distribution network work well side by side imho and both factually far far better than brown power
- 'pin prick' in terms of England's agricultural land is what i referred to. In terms of electricity generation, Solar farming & rooftops will absolutely play it's part (just as is happening in Germany right now where power in summer daytimes is so low cost that it is uneconomic for gas fired power generation to run). The UK is blessed with huge tides and winds with which we should be generating the bulk of our power. We've less than some places regarding Solar irradiation, but Sufficient to be effective. Solar will be part of the UK's electricity mix.

Nick

August 8, 2013

Nick Pascoe @ 6:27 am

Jim,

You've not replied on the post above. Can I ask again what is your primary drive against Solar Farming. You've pointed to Food vs fuel, is that the topic that should be discussed re Rydon? You're still welcome to call.

I've just read the posts re Fulford and other Teignbridge DC Solar farms. Again I'm finding it difficult to understand the contrast between your concern for the environment which I share passionately and clear activist angst toward UK Solar Farming.

Nick

August 9, 2013

Jim @ 1:58 pm

Hi Nick,

Forgive me, but I'm not paid to write this stuff and I've been a bit busy on other matters for the last few days. I've just created a new post entitled "The Pros and Cons of South West Solar Farming". Perhaps we could continue the more general conversation over there?

Getting back to the specifics of Rydon Farm, all I've done thus far is report on Teignbridge's decision on your request for an EIA screening opinion. In the normal course of events I'd start to take a closer interest as and when the planning application goes in.

However as I stated up the thread a bit, "Food v fuel" is indeed one of my main concerns, so I did drop a bit about that into my original post! How do you square the fact that the MAGIC web site implies the Rydon Farm site is mainly grade 2, whereas you suggest that it is in fact "long term grassland"?

August 31, 2013

Lettuce @ 11:01 pm

I think the Rydon farm development should add an education centre for schools to visit, perhaps even for the paying public. I would certainly pay to visit such a place which if done well enough would be interesting to both young and old, tourist or local. This might address some of the concerns from the objectors who own nearby campsites I live very near the site and i am satisfied the impact would be minimal after the construction phase.

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