Higher Knapp Farm in Knapp near Taunton, Somerset has recently rented out a small percentage of its land to solar power generator, Lightsource Renewable Energy. The land will now accommodate a solar farm generating 1.5 MW of green energy – the equivalent of enough power for around 442 households, which is … than half of the parish of North Curry. Lightsource has consulted closely with Taunton Deane Borough Council throughout the planning process, as well as engaging with North Curry Parish Council.

The principal issue raised at the initial meeting with the Parish Council back in early November 2012 was that of visibility. This concern was focused on the eastern border where the site slopes upwards. Lightsource duly planned the new solar farm so that it lay in the lower, most level areas of the land, avoiding the eastern slope. In addition, in accordance with the recommendations of Taunton Deane Borough Council, Lightsource will be planting a hazel coppice to screen the site on the eastern boundary as a condition of planning approval.

Conor McGuigan, Business Development Director for Lightsource, comments, “When we develop a new solar farm, we are entering into an agreement with the landowner and council for a period of 25 years. Therefore we are required to demonstrate that the land we build on is protected and used correctly to its fullest potential in order to obtain planning permission”.

Conor continues, “We are strong advocates of optimising the opportunity that a solar farm presents to enhance site biodiversity. Higher Knapp Farm will not only benefit from a new hazel coppice, but a range of species rich wildflower mix will be planted beneath and between the solar panel rows, creating a more diverse habitat.”

As part of the original planning application, Lightsource submitted a detailed flood risk assessment, which was reviewed by the Environmental Agency, who concluded that with an appropriate surface water management plan, the development would not increase flood risk within the site or surrounding area. Lightsource has prepared and submitted a detailed surface water management plan to the Council which proposes a swale system that will improve site run off and drainage.

“Our tenancy duration runs for a long period of time and it is imperative that we address any concerns like flooding risks upfront to ensure there will be no impact on the surrounding area. It is in our best interests to work with the council and address local concerns collectively” Conor adds.

Unlike some other forms of renewable energy, solar farms have negligible impact on the land they stand on. They are noise and emission free, and because they have no moving parts they do not harm wildlife. They also have less visual impact than wind farms or nuclear plants and are much easier to screen using natural planting. Another common misconception is that it’s essential for the sun to be shining, when in fact ordinary daylight is sufficient to generate solar energy.

It goes without saying that the atrocious weather throughout 2012 has put many farmers to the test. However, as at Higher Knapp Farm, increasing numbers have been discovering a way to reap a weatherproof, guaranteed income over a 25 year period – at no costs to themselves. They can achieve this by renting out land or roof space to Lightsource, the UK’s largest solar energy generator. There is no risk of any default on rental payments because Lightsource is backed by 25 year government investment schemes, making it a guaranteed secure tenant.

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