The proposal happens to be one deceased farmer's land - the whole of his 250 acre farm. So this is not the result of thoughtful planning by the developer Elgin Energy - this is merely random opportunism because the land became available and is close to the Kells NIE Substation.
To make matters worse, the developer seeks to utilise every scrap of this farmland so their proposal butts against private gardens, crosses between three country roads (one of them a main road) making the proposal highly visible, and surrounds a lake, wetland area and historic raths. This is not an area of high agricultural value and so it is wild and beautiful and home to an abundance of diverse flora and fauna including a significant population of NI's curlew.
NI was never considered a viable option for large scale solar installations due to its latitude which delivers 20% less irradiance than England. As a result, Planning legislation governing renewable energy applications, PPS18, was written only in consideration of wind farms and small scale, roof mounted, solar PV installations. As a result, there is no planning legislation in place to govern the careful management of large scale solar PV into our environment.
To give an idea of the scale of the problem heading our way, last year alone BElectirc UK listed 30 new limited companies here in Northern Ireland, each representing a large scale solar installation. They spread indiscriminately across all constituencies. In addition, we know that solar developers BNRG Ltd, Lightsource Ltd and Elgin Energy Ltd are all active in NI and have, between them, formed a further 38 new solar PV companies here in 2014. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of solar PV developers active on the mainland whose new focus is here since the Environment Secretary in England declared that large-scale solar farms are "a blight on the landscape" and confirmed plans to cut a taxpayer subsidy. So the number of applications coming our way is likely to be in the hundreds -and we have no planning policy to deal with them.
We have urged the Minister of the Environment, Mr Mark H. Durkan, to put a moratorium on all planning applications for large scale solar until a new planning policy is put in place. This is supported by Ian Paisley MP who has written to the Minister and who has also informed us that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Liz Truss, is commissioning nationwide research into the environmental effects of large scale solar on the environment and Ian Paisley MP has asked her to include NI in this research.
By the number of constituents raising concerns with you about wind farms and wind mills, you are fully aware of the problems they cause to the environment and to people. The root of the issue goes back to Planning Policy PPS18 which was written in respect of wind farms, by the wind industry. You have the opportunity with large scale solar to get this right from the outset and ask the Minister for a policy, not guidelines, but a properly written and widely consulted policy that manages the integration of large scale solar PV into the environment whilst protecting the landscape and the people in it.
We suggest that as a minimum the new policy should require:
'sequential testing' giving preference to:
brown field sites rather than agricultural land
adjacency to industrial estates rather than proximity to housing
flat land rather than to undulating land
a screening buffer of 100m from all public roads
a screening buffer of 100m from all residences
a contamination buffer of 500m from wells and natural water ways.
the requirement for a Decommissioning Bond to ensure removal and prevent solar panel waste - the Scottish Executive already have this in place.
Until such a policy is put in place, we urge you to support KellsVOCAL in asking the Minister for a moratorium on all Planning applications for large scale solar PV.
(Voice of the Countryside Alliance)
OSNI map showing site location. This scale is unacceptable in NI!
This is an example of a smaller solar farm in the UK which gives an indication as to what Elgin Energy are proposing.