Opening of latest solar farm in Fens boosts Cambridgeshire numbers to over 40 - enough to power 185,000 homes every year

Solar farm Chittering

Solar farm Chittering - Credit: Archant

Opening of a 22 acre solar farm this week in the Fens brings to over 40 the number now operational or in the pipeline across Cambridgeshire – enough to power 185,000 homes each year.

Solar farm Chittering

Solar farm Chittering - Credit: Archant

The latest 4.7MWp (Megawatts-peak) scheme has been installed at Royston Farms near Turves, just outside March, by Lightsource Renewable Energy Ltd.

The 1,000 acre farm has been run by John White and his family since 1993 and includes a mixture of potatoes, sugar beet and wheat.

Lightsource already manages three solar farms in the county - at Chittering, Wilburton, Turves and Abbots Ripton- but believes a change in Government subsidies will bring smaller solar farms in the future.

In eight weeks time new solar farms with a capacity of more than 5MWp will no longer be eligible to receive any renewable energy grant - instead the funding will be aimed at smaller installations.

Solar farm at Wilburton

Solar farm at Wilburton - Credit: Archant

Conor McGuigan, business development director at Lightsource, said: “With plenty of sunshine for most of the year, the East of England has a crucial role to play in the future of the UK’s solar industry.

“There’s a real chance for landowners in the East of England – whatever sized sites they may have - to unlock their green energy potential.

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“Landowners can be assured that solar farms are still an attractive proposition but choices need to be made wisely.”]

He predicts the change in renewable obligation certificates (ROC) will cause a shift towards smaller developments.

“Solar farms aren’t dead,” he continued. “They’re still a very attractive option for many farmers or landowners looking to diversify their income. “The UK has made a legal commitment to reduce its carbon footprint and solar – together with the East of England - remain an important part of that mix.”

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The move into renewable energy has provided farmer John White with a secure extra income – allowing him to invest more in the business.

“We needed an extra income to survive and we had to diversify, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “The panels take up a very small part of our site – but the money we receive from it is secure. It’s a fixed rate and indexed-linked with inflation so I have peace of mind, knowing exactly what to expect in terms of revenue, even if it’s cloudy.”

Mr White had another 5MWp solar farm installed by Lightsource around three years ago and he said that had been a big reason for deciding to get another.

“It works really well,” he said. “Compared to other forms of renewables – such as wind turbines and AD – I think it’s far less invasive. It’s screened with hedgerows so you can’t see it and it doesn’t take up that much space.”

The project was delivered alongside locally-based developers Abbey Renewables

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The 550 acre Wilburton Estate solar farm has been praised for providing a haven for wildlife like partridge which shelter under the solar panels. Tim Hughes, who helps run the Wilburton Estate, said: “Field sizes have grown dramatically over recent decades resulting in many natural habitats being lost through the removal of hedgerows, field margins and areas of natural wetland.

“This has caused a lot of local species to suffer and to disappear completely. However, since commissioning the first solar farm in 2011, we have noticed a marked increase in bird and wild mammal numbers, together with much improved quantity and variety of insects and invertebrates.”

A heavy duty perimeter fence keeps out the majority of ground predators, such as foxes and badgers, allowing species to flourish, especially ground nesting birds like the grey partridge, he said and the solar panels have provided effective shelter for partridge, which are highly susceptible to overhead predators as well as rain and cold.

Mr Hughes continued: “Solar farms tick an awful lot of boxes at a time when many farmers and landowners are looking for diversification whilst securing a steady source of income. In our case, the solar farm is relatively benign, it generates electricity with minimal ongoing maintenance required and a minimal impact on the landscape.”

The estate set up its first solar farm in 2011, a 5MWp facility of 19,960 solar panels which powers more than 1,400 homes and on the back of its success last year installed its second farm.

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