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Following a public consultation, Sandridge Solar Power has submitted a planning application to Wiltshire Council for a 44MWp solar farm on land east of Melksham and south of the A3102, West Wiltshire.
The solar farm would have the capacity to generate enough electricity for approximately 11,387 average UK households – more than all of the properties in Melksham. It would save up to 504,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions over the 25-year lifetime of the project.
A public exhibition held recently saw 70 people attend, with 51 completing a consultation questionnaire. 31 of these said they supported the Sandridge Solar Farm proposal, with 13 stating they did not support it. 44 people said they supported the use of solar power as a source of renewable energy. Solar was also rated top of a list of UK energy sources, including nuclear, coal and wind.
Visitors to the exhibition were also asked for suggestions for local initiatives that could benefit from a substantial community fund, which would provide around £44,000 per year for the 25-year lifetime of the solar farm, based on the proposed 44MWp scheme (£1,000 per megawatt per year). The fund would be managed locally and used to fund projects bringing economic, environmental or social benefits to the community.
St.John Hughes, director of Sandridge Solar Power said, “The public consultation gave us the opportunity to discuss the proposal with members of the local community and it was good to hear how much support there is for the project. It also enabled us to understand any concerns people had, the main issue being the potential visual impact of the solar farm from the village of Seend.
“In response to this, we produced an additional photomontage looking towards the site from a footpath in Seend and we’ve shared this with the parish council and those residents who highlighted this concern on their feedback form and left us their contact details.
“In terms of the community benefit fund, we’ve discussed the management and use of it in principle with the Melksham Community Area Partnership and we will also talk with the local parish councils as the next important step in making sure the fund is translated into direct community benefits.”
Since the public consultation, Sandridge Solar Power has identified identical but higher capacity solar panels that would enable the solar farm to generate more energy and make higher CO2 savings than originally calculated.
The solar farm will not take the site out of agricultural use or food production (the land is primarily low quality Grade 4 – Agricultural Land Classification) – sheep can continue to graze the land, around the solar panels, albeit at a slightly lower stocking density. Areas around and beneath the solar panels will be sown with a species rich grass mix to create meadows that will improve habitat and foraging resources for birds and insects and thereby enhance the biodiversity of the site and location in general.
Further to the broader objectives of reducing CO2 emissions and security of energy supply, the benefits of the project to the local community and environment are summarised on the website, with further details provided in the planning application.
Members of the public can now submit comments to Wiltshire Council until 20th December, quoting planning application reference 13/06140/FUL. A planning decision is expected in February next year.