UK’s largest solar farm gains government approval, despite local opposition

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The Secretary of State for Business, Environment and Industrial Strategy has given the go-ahead to a proposed 350MW solar power plant on the Kent coast, which when fully operational will be the largest solar farm in the UK. 

Joint venture partners Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy first proposed the construction of the Cleve Hill Solar Park on the Graveney Marsh near Faversham back in 2017. While it has largely been opposed by local residents due to its scale, the Government has been supportive of the development, designating it a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, the first time a solar farm has received that designation. 

Construction of the Cleve Hill Solar Park is expected to cost around £450 million, with the site covering some 900 acres of farmland. It’s estimated that around 880,000 solar panels will be needed to generate the 350MW of power proposed by the developers, which should be enough to power 91,000 homes, while simultaneously reducing the UK’s carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes annually. 

In addition to the solar panels themselves, the developers have also indicated that they are in talks with suppliers to source lithium battery storage for the site. 

Despite approval from the energy secretary, the Cleve Hill Solar Park is still heavily opposed by local groups, including Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whatley. In a statement following the government’s approval of the project, Whatley described the news as “Hugely frustrating and upsetting,” citing the site’s impact on the natural environment in the area. 

To allay the fears of local environmental groups, Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy have promised to bring in environmental mitigation practices to protect local bird species. The joint venture partners have also set aside 138 acres of the site as a dedicated Habitat Management Area. 

Construction on the Cleve Hill Solar Park is expected to begin in 2021, with the developers hoping to have the site operational by 2023.