Solar panel farm proposed for West Down

A new solar farm capable of powering more than 1,000 homes has been proposed for land at West Down.

A public exhibition was held at the Parish Hall in the village on Thursday to seek the views of local people on the scheme, which would see solar photovoltaic panels installed on 12 hectares of land leased from West Hill Farm.

The project is being proposed by South West based company Low Carbon Solar, which said it intended to seek local views through a public consultation prior to submitting a planning application.

The development would see rows of solar photovoltaic arrays – 2.3 metres high and assembled on a metal framework, with enough space for animals to graze between them.

West Hill Farm is trying to diversify after ceasing to supply milk to West Hill Dairy, which was unable to compete against supermarket domination. Farmer Chris Batstone said the development would be unobtrusive but would enable the farm to continue.

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The company has said the site is in a fairly remote location, with localised screening around it, with Devon banks minimising any impact to the surrounding area. The firm also intends additional planting and a “biodiversity corridor” around the site.

Low Carbon Solar says it would produce five megawatts of energy, enough to power more than 1,000 homes and saving 2,590 tonnes of CO2.

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Chief executive Mark Shorrock said the proposal was one of several potential projects the company was looking at in Cornwall and Devon.

“If approved, we estimate �3 million of the project’s build costs would be spent with local suppliers and trades, and we would establish a Parish Trust that would receive an annual income from the solar park for the local community to invest in local projects,” he said.

Mr Shorrock said that could amount to �25,000 a year for 25 years - or �625,000.

“They make the decision where that investment goes,” he added.

“It might be a project to tackle fuel poverty by providing insulation for homes in their community, or providing solar power for the church or village hall, or supporting local volunteer groups or charities.”

Plans for solar farms have cropped up across the region, with Yelland, Winkleigh, Bideford and Torrington all featuring sites being considered.

The government is planning to review the Feed In Tariff system -which guarantees a fixed rate price for electricity generated through renewable energy – and possibly restrict it to smaller projects.

Commenting on this, Mr Sharrock added: “We have been urging the Government to reconsider its early review of the FIT because it threatens to stifle an emerging green energy industry that can bring considerable community benefits.

“If it does proceed then we believe any scheme already in the planning process before the summer, when the review is expected to report, be exempt because the Government has said any change to the FIT would not be retrospective.”

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