Nunney Parish Council has voted to recommend refusal of a planning application to place 22,000 solar panels along the A361.
If the plans go ahead, the 22,000 solar panels at Little Sharpshaw Farm will cover an area of 13 acres, including just under a mile of land alongside the A361 between Marston and Ridgeway. The panels would be 2.8 metres high.
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.
The Parish Council meeting drew a sizeable attendance by members of the public, who were given the opportunity to express their opinion for up to three minutes each.
Various local residents expressed views, both for and against the planned solar farm. It was claimed that a substantial amount of preparatory groundwork had already been conducted on the site over a period of eight days set aside for geological and archeological surveys.
Councillors then discussed the solar farm plans amongst themselves, occasionally interrupted by members of the public. It was highlighted that opponents of the planning application had been noticeably vocal, but that it was important to recognise that many others were either in favour of the proposals or indifferent.
Councillors Judith Beresford and Francis Hayden stressed that renewable energy is to be welcomed, but felt that the location proposed was hugely inappropriate due to its visual impact.
Extensive discussions have already taken place in previous Nunney Parish Council meetings since the plans were unveiled in April. The planning application by John Yeoman of Little Sharpshaw Farm coincides with a proposed wind turbine at Torr Works on the outskirts of Nunney.
During the Council meeting on 3 June, Mr Yeoman outlined his reasons for seeking a solar farm. Representatives of AEE Renewables, based in Bath, gave details of the proposed development.
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.
Objections to the development on the edge of Nunney have been raised by some local residents, who fear that the development is too big and would ruin the rural scenery. It has also been pointed out that Little Sharpshaw Farm is for sale at the moment. If planning is granted, the new owner will be required to honour the development.
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.
The deadline for responses to the planning application is Thursday 11 July. The proposals are available on the Mendip District Council website.