Three years in the planning, the Cleve Hill Solar Park has gotten final approval from the UK Planning Inspectorate Office. When completed, it will be the largest solar power plant in the country with 880,000 solar panels producing a maximum of 350 MW of electricity — enough to power 91,000 UK homes.
The entire facility, which will include some unspecified battery storage capability, will occupy 364 hectares (900 acres) of farmland in Kent, 96 km southeast of London. That’s equivalent to 600 football pitches, otherwise known as soccer fields in less developed parts of the world. Because its capacity exceeds 50 MW, it was deemed to be a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, a designation that meant it had to undergo an extensive application including public hearings, according to Engadget.
The Cleve Hill project will be entirely subsidy-free, meaning no taxpayer assistance will be available to the developers, Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy. The developers say the project will help cut UK carbon emissions by 68,000 tons a year while generating £1 million of revenue for the Kent and Swale councils annually.
With all that public scrutiny, it was inevitable some objections would be raised. Helen Whatley, a member of Parliament who represents the area, told The Telegraph the solar power plant amounts to “industrialization” of the countryside. “We’re not talking about a few fields — this would destroy an entire landscape. I want to see us reach net-zero by 2050, but this should not come at any cost.” The Campaign to Protect Rural England has also weighed in, warning the proposed battery storage component could raise the risk of explosions and fire in the area.
The Cleve Hill developers have devoted a lot of time making sure the solar power plant is environmentally appropriate. “The solar park will deliver a 65 percent increase in biodiversity on the intensively farmed site by including open grassland and meadow areas, hedgerows and woodland,” Cleve Hill spokeswoman Emily Marshall tells The Independent.
The project in Kent underscores the challenges involved in siting renewable energy installations. For instance, everyone in Hawai’i knows solar power plants are a perfect fit for that state due to its endless days of sunny weather. Still, finding large tracts of land where the solar panels can be installed requires careful planning and engagement with the community. If a solar park is planned, locals always want it located in the next town. It’s human nature.