Solarcentury builds Hampshire's first solar community project

Construction of a 2.4 MW solar park in Hampshire, U.K., is set to begin shortly after British solar developer Solarcentury was selected by the West Solent Solar Cooperative (WSSC) to build the county’s first ever solar community project.

Some 500 individuals, each members of the WSSC, have funded the plant’s investment, which once complete will deliver clean solar energy to 600 households to the nearby towns of Lymington and Pennington.

The cooperative project was given the go-ahead after the WSSC was able to allay local fears that the site could become an eyesore. The solar park will be seeded with wildflowers, and bee hives will be established in order to create a rich site for biodiversity. Solarcentury was chosen to construct the project on the back of its spotless track-record in developing responsible solar farms that are delivered on time and to specification.

"We are extremely pleased to be bringing the benefits of clean solar electricity to an organization that is making community-owned and managed renewable energy production a reality," said Solarcentury CEO Frans van den Heuvel. "Investing in the WSSC is a vote for solar, already the most popular form of renewable energy in the U.K., and it’s also a vote for an independent, sustainable energy future in the U.K., moving us away from expensive imported fossil fuel."

The community fundraising project was over-subscribed, indicating local support for solar in a part of the country often regarded as prone to ‘nimbyism’ (Not in My Back Yard). Once complete, the 2.4 MW solar park will be used for the grazing of sheep ever Fall, while a wide range of flora and fauna will also be introduced on to the land.

Construction of the park is scheduled to take just six weeks, with Solarcentury designing its building program in order to minimize disruption to the local community. The project is expected to begin feeding solar power to the national grid by the end of June.

"We were drawn towards Solarcentury because of the natural synergies between our organizations," said WSSC chairman Anthony Woolhouse. "Their technical expertise and highly skilled project management expertise makes them satisfying to work with. We are certain this will be a solar project that the local community can feel proud of."

Applying the brakes

Public approval, garnered so effectively by the WSSC, was instrumental in pushing through the Hampshire solar park. Other proposed projects have not been so lucky. Earlier in June, a solar farm planned for the eastern English county of Suffolk was blocked by the communities secretary for the coalition government, Eric Pickles, who claimed that such an installation would have an adverse impact on the landscape.

That decision came days before a second solar park was denied planning permission following the intervention of high-profile TV actor and comedian, Griff Rhys Jones.

The former star of Smith & Jones told U.K. newspaper The Telegraph that the planning refusal in the county of Suffolk was "not a victory for my backyard, but a victory for all backyards."

The decision by the communities secretary to reject the solar park proposal is indicative of a wider governmental stance against large-scale solar parks in the U.K. In April next year, ministers will remove the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) subsidy scheme for all parks above 5 MW as the government switches its support focus to the rooftop sector and commercial projects installed on former brownfield sites.