Environmental campaigners have said they are “dismayed” that plans for the largest solar farm in Devon have been unanimously approved – but the firm behind the ambitious scheme said it will benefit the environment while generating investment and jobs.
An application submitted by ND Solar Enterprises Ltd, based in Bristol, has been given the go-ahead by councillors despite impassioned speeches from members of independent charity Devon CPRE which exists to protect the county’s rural landscape.
Devon CPRE chair Rebecca Bartleet told councillors the immense installation, with 100,000 solar panels on piles, would industrialise 23 fields on a site totalling more than 150 acres at Litchardon Cross, south west of Barnstaple.
It will consist of six separate solar farms, each with extensive security fencing, straddling the Atlantic Highway, a main tourist route.
Councillors also heard evidence from Devon CPRE energy expert Dr Phillip Bratby that the Litchardon Cross solar farm – along with other large schemes proposed in Devon – would add to the instability and unreliability of the local network and the wider grid.
It will cover a quarter of a square mile of farmland and generate about 49,000 MWh of electricity a year from a vast array of ground-mounted solar PV panels.
North Devon councillors voted unanimously to give the green light to the project which Aura Power, the parent of ND Solar Enterprises, said will generate enough electricity to power 12,700 homes, thereby saving 15,800 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year.
The company said Litchardon Cross Solar Farm will be built without subsidy, and will therefore compete with fossil fuel generation on a level playing field.
A spokesman said: “By increasing the supply of power, our solar farm will help to reduce national power prices, whilst securing regional investment and jobs.
“As a local business, our solar farm will also be contributing nearly £100,000 in business rates to North Devon Council every year.
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“Furthermore, Aura is proposing to set up a Community Benefit Fund of £350 per MW per year, index-linked, for the lifetime of the solar farm. This could amount to £17,500 a year for 35 years or over £612,000 in total.”
The firm said that £2,000 a year would be set aside for educational sessions with schools and site visits to the solar farm, with the remainder being shared between the parishes of Horwood, Lovacott and Newton Tracey, Fremington and neighbouring parishes, used for social and environmental community projects.
However, Mr Bratby, Devon CPRE trustee, told the North Devon Council planning committee the solar farm would have a huge visual impact on the landscape.
He said: “Devon CPRE is bitterly disappointed at this outcome. We had many concerns about this installation, including the impact of row upon row of solar panels and all the security fencing that will be required over such a large area.
“There is also doubt that the local grid has the capacity to handle the intermittent and uncontrollable electricity that will be generated by this vast installation. The committee chose to ignore our objections and those of local residents.”