An ambitious renewable-energy programme is being developed in Northumberland – with proposals for a state-of-the-art solar farm.
The plans are the first stage of a bold ten-year energy-investment strategy for Northumberland County Council, which will help to support the delivery of frontline services, mitigate the impact of energy price inflation, reduce carbon emissions and in the longer term, help to tackle fuel poverty in the county.
The plans are for a solar farm in a north-west section of the Ashington Community Woodland. The farm will be made up of around 16,000 panels on a site of about ten hectares within the 135-hectare wood. The electricity would go into the National Grid and would generate enough electricity to power around 830 homes (based on the UK average electricity consumption).
A full ecological assessment will be undertaken of the proposed site and measures will be put in place through a biodiversity management plan to specify how existing species and habitats will be protected. Appropriate land management on solar farms can bring about significant benefits for a range of wildlife including birds, plants and insects.
The council currently consumes in excess of 36,000 MWh of electricity each year, aside from school buildings, at a cost of £3.2million. The annual cost for utilities, including gas and water, is approaching £10million, and the authority currently has to allow £1million each year to cover the impact of utilities inflation, which adds to the savings burden placed on the authority.
Coun Grant Davey, leader of the council, said: “Through this programme, Northumberland will become one of a growing group of progressive authorities which are looking to reduce their energy costs while also addressing environmental and social objectives and delivering community benefits.
“This work follows on from a number of other energy-reduction projects across Northumberland including solar PV on 150 community buildings, including more than half of our schools. Nine hundred council houses already have solar PV and a further 1,000 installations are underway through the work of a dedicated in-house team of specialists.
“This project alone could generate around £400,000 of gross income annually to the council at current prices – that is a significant sum as we strive to maintain services in difficult financial times.”
A public drop-in event will be held at Woodhorn Museum next Monday from noon until 8pm for members of the public to learn more about the proposals. A planning application will then be submitted for consideration later this month. Subject to the outcome of public consultation and securing planning approval the works could be completed by March 2016.