Mendip District Council’s Planning Board has rejected a planning application for a solar farm at Little Sharpshaw Farm near Nunney unanimously.
At a meeting in Wells Town Hall on Wednesday 20 November the Planning Board decided to deny the application to place 22,000 solar panels along the A361 planning permission on the basis of visual impact and cumulative impact on listed buildings in the area.
The Planning Officer strongly recommended refusal. Nunney, Trudoxhill and Selwood Parishes had all objected. Frome Town Council was in favour, although it affects very little of the town.
A large number of organisations voiced objections to the proposals, based on arguments ranging from roosting bats to a newly-discovered Iron Age settlement on the site.
Nunney Parish Council area is most affected by the proposal and had asked to send a representative. Councillor Judith Beresford had asked permission to speak at the Planning Board meeting on behalf of Nunney Parish Council, but in the end did not attend.
Half of dozen Nunney residents did travel to Wells to witness the meeting.
A spokesman for AEE Renewable said after the unanimous rejection of the project that his firm would appeal against the decision.
If the plans had gone ahead, the 22,000 solar panels at Little Sharpshaw Farm would have covered an area of 13 acres, including just under a mile of land alongside the A361 between Marston and Ridgeway. The panels would have been 2.8 metres high.
Despite covering an area larger than Nunney, the solar farm was estimated potentially to generate power roughly equivalent to one medium-sized wind turbine.
Nunney Parish Council is not a planning authority, but can make a recommendation to Mendip District Council. The Parish Council voted by 5 votes to recommend refusal of the plans, 1 vote in favour of approval and 2 votes in favour of referral of the decision to the planning officer.
Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker said in a speech to foreign investors last month that it is the Government’s ambition to create a ten fold increase in the number of solar farms currently built or being planned, with an “ambition” rather than a target of 20GW of energy to be produced by solar panels in 2020.
The National Grid has warned that its systems would not be able to cope if more than 20GW of solar energy is produced. Electricity is not stored under the current system. The National Grid pays power stations to reduce the amount of energy they produce when more energy is produced than is used by consumers.
For farmers being approached by firms such as AEE Renewables, solar farms are not just about renewable energy but a welcome means to an end. Solar farm owners get subsidies to open a solar farm, get money for the energy they produce and – as is already the case with wind farms and power stations – also have to be paid not to produce energy during the summer months.
As well as selling electricity to the National Grid, solar farm owners get subsidies known as Renewable Obligations Certificate (ROC) payments, proportionate to the amount of energy produced.
The Government’s Renewables Obligation scheme offers generous subsidies to solar developers, which is why AEE and other firms are currently pushing for solar developments all over the countryside. Developers currently building solar farms get up to £85 for each MWh of energy generated. Ultimately, these subsidies are paid for by the taxpayer and added to household energy bills.
A 20-year government guarantee of tax incentives for solar farms has ensured that solar farms are also highly recommended by financial advisers as a low-risk method to reduce inheritance tax liabilities.
Objections to the development on the edge of Nunney had been raised by some local residents, who fear that the development is too big and would ruin the rural scenery. Little Sharpshaw Farm was sold recently to the Sanderson family, who last year became the new owners of Marston House.
However, others have accused local residents of NIMBYism (‘Not In My Back Yard’) and are calling for the renewable energy projects to get the go-ahead.