UK government refuses to intervene in solar farm plans


News of a planning application for a solar PV park at the Pasture House Farm, between Westnewton and Aspatria in Cumbria, broke this week. The story, though, has more layers than first appears.

Both planning authority Allerdale Borough Council and the applicant, Livos Energy, confirmed news of the scheme to pv magazine.

The planning application did not state the size of the farm, however Craig Miles, planning manager at the Edinburgh office of Livos Energy, told pv magazine that was because the developer is still considering the farm's capacity. Miles added, it will most probably be around 15 to 16 MW.

Miles also confirmed the project has secured financing and a grid connection and construction is going to start as soon as possible.

Reading-based Livos Energy specialises in ground-mounted solar and wind parks and is an investor and developer. The Pasture House solar farm is a typical project, although Miles added the company does not neglect the prospect of selling assets if a good opportunity arises.

UK government refuses to intervene in planning

The story made headlines this week due to the UK government's reluctance to intervene in the project's planning process.

Initially, the Allerdale Borough Council's development panel had voted in favor of the proposal at a meeting on November 4 but at the last minute, the secretary of state for communities and local government – Eric Pickles – was asked by local stakeholders to call in the application and the decision was put on hold.

Objections were mainly based on concerns about the industrialization of the area and the visual impact the solar farm would have on the landscape.

Livos Energy replied the PV park would be on low-quality agricultural land and it would keep the site available for grazing while incorporating environmental enhancements, including a biodiversity action plan.

Pickles sent a letter to Allerdale Borough Council on Tuesday saying he has carefully considered the case against the call-in policy but the policy makes clear the power to call in a case will only be used selectively.

The government, he said, is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues and planning decisions should be made at a local level wherever possible. On that basis, Pickles refused to intervene and planning permission has now been granted to Livos.

UK policy changes

Should Livos Energy want the Pasture House solar farm to qualify for the current Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROC) subsidy scheme, it would need to complete the project by March.

Starting in April, the UK will move away from ROCs in favor of its Contracts for Difference (CfD) subsidy program. ROCs for PV projects after April will only be available for installations up to 4.99 MW, with the ROC scheme expected to be scrapped entirely in March 2017.

The government has also recently launched its Urban Community Energy Fund (UCEF) giving community groups in England the opportunity to bid for grants of up to £20,000, or loans of up to £130,000. The UCEF has been assigned £10 million.

The policy changes, together with a revision of the UK's FIT scheme (mainly targeting smaller installations) to be announced in 2015, are expected to impact the shape of the country's solar PV sector both in terms of the number and kind of installations and the stakeholders that comprise it.

The government's reluctance to intervene in the Pasture House solar farm case is not reflected in the country's energy policy, where the government does intervene in previously untested ways, causing winners and losers.

The forthcoming, December, issue of pv magazine will analyze the UK's path to 12 GW of PV installations by 2020, also examining the prospects for community energy and the residential and commercial rooftop sectors. An introduction to alternative plans, aiming higher than 12 GW of installations, will be included.

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