The Lights Go Out For Kernow Solar Farm

Tomorrow’s Cornwall Council Cabinet has one or two interesting items on the agenda. One of these items is the Kernow Solar Farm and its future. The simple answer is it has no future now; as since the Governments change to the Feed in Tariff (FiT) this Solar Farm is now not financially viable.

I blogged about this proposals 11 months ago and how the Cabinet authorized the spending of £14m on this scheme. This after the initial costs of £10m proved to be wildly wrong. At this meeting back in October 2010 I made the point of what happen if the FiT changed, and why spend the money if the project has no chance of being a reality. In defence, the original price was ‘guaranteed’ till March 2012, but this turned out to be August 2011 after the Government carried out its fast-tracked review.

In the agenda papers for tomorrow it has a recommendation for this ‘ear-marked’ money (£14m) is to be transferred into another solar panel project(s) of those under 50kw. Currently, this size of scheme still has a generous 32.9p per unit, from 43.3p in the original FiT. For interest, the schemes over 50kw have a FiT of 8.5p from 19p. These solar panels could be fitted to council owned building like schools, sports centres and offices. Which on the face of things seems like a good idea if it saves money.

In the report there is a warning that the Government is reviewing the under 50kw FiT, and one of the extreme results could be this generous FiT completely stops. As the current prices is only guaranteed until March 2012. So Cornwall Council better get its skates on if it does not want to end up in the same position as it found itself with Kernow Solar Park.

However, in the reports recommendations the figure of up to £15m is set to be authorized for this project. This is an extra million pounds that’s been added to the scheme. OK, it says up to, but that generally means it will be £15m. Again, it shows that when the Cabinet wants to find money it can easily lay its hand on the cash, but when services like Adult Social Care, Supporting People, Concessionary Fares, etc need money, the coffers seems to be firmly shut, or empty.

If you think about it, the budget is more because if you include all the officer time, planning costs and other associated costs for the development of Kernow Solar Farm. These will amount to quite a lot, but, there is still the original £14m in the pot.  Oh, and the extra million.

It makes you think what the priorities at Cornwall Council are.

Solar Farm Gold Rush Over?

It looks like the Solar Farm gold rush is over with the announcement by the Government to cut the Feed in Tariff (FiT). The new tariffs will come in on the 1st August 2011 and are as follows:


SOLAR PV:

  • >50 kW – ≤ 150 kW Total Installed Capacity (TIC) – 19.0p/ kWh
  • >150 kW – ≤ 250 kW TIC – 15.0p/ kWh
  • 250 kW – 5 MW TIC and stand-alone installations – 8.5p/ kWh

This is bad news for Cornwall Council because at a Cabinet meeting in October 2010, the Cabinet authorised the borrowing and spending of £14 million for a Council owned farm. I and other Councillors raised back then the concerns about the pending review, but it was brushed aside as no real concern. Now, with this announcement, it is of concern, especially if we are locked into any finance.

Furthermore, the mass rush to get planning permission before the deadline may now stop, as it will be almost impossible for any application to get planning and be up and running by the deadline.

Maybe now a lot of the high-grade farming land will now be retained and not turned into a Solar Farm.

Solar Farms – One Rule for Developers, Another for Cornwall Council?

During the last few months the bulk of work carried out by the Strategic Planning Committee has been about Solar Farms. Last Friday this Committee had a further nine to deal with. The reason I believe for the sudden rush is because developers want to get their planning permission all sorted before the deadline of August the 1st. This deadline is the Governments cut-off point to the generous Feed in Tariff (FiT) that’s paid for any energy produced. After this date the FiT dramatically drops, and in most cases will mean Solar Farms would be unviable.

Generally most applications are passed due to the strong local support and planning policy that favours renewable energy. Unlike Wind Farms, developers of Solar Farms have realised one major key to success is the community benefit the local population receives. The ‘standard price’ is £5,000 per MW per year and with the average farm being 5MW, the benefit can be as much £20,000 per year. It does not take a mathematician to work out that £20k per year over 25 years is a considerable pot of money that a community can spend on projects of it’s choosing.

This figure had been working well, that’s until Cornwall Council put in it’s own application for a Solar Farm. In the report the community benefit seemed on face value ok, it was only when questions were asked the benefits turns out not to be very much. It was claimed in this report that there would be a Visitor Centre for use for educational purposes. This turned out not to be a building, but a virtual centre that most people in the real world would call a web-site.

It was when we got onto the amount of money this application would give to the community things got a little unstuck. This application offered £20k, not per year, but for the whole of the 25 year lifespan of the farm. This point rankled many of the Committee, not just because it was a pittance of £800 per year, but more worryingly this could been seem as favouritism because it was a Council application. Developers could (and many would) have claimed they were being asked to pay a ‘standard price’ and Cornwall Council not having to pay the same price. The perception of not being treated fairly and equally because it was a Cornwall Council application and it was being dealt by Cornwall Council Committee.

This point was backed up by legal advice when this question was asked by members of the Committee. I will though point out that it was claimed any profit from this Solar Farm would be put into front line services, which If true I very much welcome. Even if all profits were put into services there is still no reason why similar application should be treated differently.

In the end the application was deferred for those concerns to be worked out before any permission is given. You may feel that a Planning Committee would just rubber-stamp any application by it’s own Council, but this is far from the case. From my experience, Councillors will make sure every application is treated fairly and there is consistency when it comes to similar applications.

I am not sure how the Executive took this news, but I can imagine one or two WTFs were said aloud when hearing this news.

Is The Gold Rush Over For Solar Parks?

The solar farm gold rush could be over before it begins because of the Governments proposed plans to change the ‘Feed in Tariffs’, or otherwise know as a subsidy. This change in stance by the Government on the tariffs has been on the cards for a while as not long after the General Election the newly formed Government said it would be looking into this area. I do think the Government is right on this, because the feed in tariffs are rather generous, especially in the current climate of massive cuts in funding and services.

I have blogged about the sudden explosion of proposed solar parks, and how I personally feel Cornwall is being used to make vast profits at the expense of the countryside. Do any of the proposed parks give the people of Cornwall cheaper electricity, or a community benefit? I welcome initiatives to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and the reduction of the carbon it produces. But, I do struggle at these plans when they are only viable by large subsidies.

The Government is proposing that you will only get the generous feed in tariff if your project is no more than 50kw. This is a change from the original cut off point of 5MW. This is a vast reduction (100 fold) and will really make a difference because only a household type project could be eligible for the tariff. I expect Cornwall Council’s Cabinet are rather miffed on this change as they authorised the spending of £14 million into solar energy parks (Click HERE for that blog) and will no doubt be rather nervous to see how much money of that £14 million could be gone.

A glimmer of hope, or should I say a ray of sunshine is still there, as the proposals are subject to the Government conducting a ‘fast track’ (their words) consultation period of six weeks. But, if the Government continues with the new proposals, then these would come into effect on the 1st August 2011.

It could also leave the Strategic Planning Committee with very short Agenda’s because for the next two months only solar parks were being brought forward and I doubt any company will bring forward a plan if there is not a chance of the lucrative tariff.

Update:

Today I received the updated figures for the feed in tariff and these proposed tariffs have been dramatically reduced.

–       19p/kWh for 50kW to 150kW
–       15p/kWh for 150kW to 250kW
–       8.5p/kWh for 250kW to 5MW and stand-alone installations

These compare with the tariffs that would otherwise apply from 1 April of:

–       32.9p/kWh for 10kw to 100kw

–       30.7/kWh for 100kw to 5MW and stand-alone installations

Such changes are in line with amendments made to similar schemes in Europe where in Germany, France and Spain tariffs for PV have been reduced sharply over the past year.

An Invasion of Panels

The Strategic Planning Committee is having a short respite from Supermarkets and large housing developments. In this lull you might hope there would be time to gather breath, but this is not the case.

In replacement of the ‘beloved’ Supermarkets it has been filled with Solar Parks. I have been told quite literary a hundred or so are coming forward for determination by the Committee. The following two meeting of the Committee are just about Solar Parks.

At present the following application are coming forward at the next meeting on the 31st March

• South Crofty Chynoweth Farm Solar Park
• Hawksland Solar Park
• Hewas Solar Park
• Newlyn Downs Solar Park
• Trenouth Solar Park

Then on the 8th April the following are ear-marked for determination.

• Brynn, Victoria, Roche
• Bonython Estate Solar Park
• Causilgay Barton Solar Park
• Churchtown Farm Solar Park
• East Langford Farm Solar Park
• Higher Tregarne Solar Park
• Howton Farm Solar Park
• Kernow Solar Park
• Manor Farm Solar Park
• Trevemper Solar Park
• Treworder Solar Park
• West Kingsmill Solar Park

I feel many of these parks are coming forward now is because of the Governments indication on changing the feed-in-tariffs that make Solar Parks very profitable. This of course is not a material planning reason to take into consideration and any decision should be made on sound planning reasons.

It does make you wonder how much of that profit will stay in Cornwall and more importantly, the local community that will have these parks next to them. If there is to be any community benefit would that be enough compensation for those communities that will now have a sea of glass (silicon) next to them?

Solar Panels – Again

I blogged about solar panels a few weeks ago (Click HERE to refresh yourselves. I asked if having Cornwall covered in them would be a price worth paying. I am personally not convinced due to a few reasons. Before I go into why not, please click HERE to read the report from today’s Cabinet meeting on Kernow Solar Park. It makes for some interesting reading as to why Cornwall Council really wants to get into this market.

The first thing I noticed is that Cornwall Council is going to have to borrow £14 million to fund this. It was £10 million, but that had to be re-address due to some figures not adding up. There is nothing wrong with borrowing £14 million if its going to make you more money in the end. That’s a good decision. The point is will it?

In the report that this farm will make £400k per year. Considering the life is 25 years, that makes a £10 million profit over this period. I pointed out that there is a difference between the expenditure and profit of £4 million. I was told that this was covered, but I am not sure where or how, unless I missed something. It’s only when you look closely at these figures is that the whole costing is based on a rather large and generous subsidy from the Government. This is 28.7 pence per unit and is near 3 times what the the average domestic consumer is paying at 10-12 pence per unit.

So the Government is paying more out of our Taxes to support this. It could get worse as if the Government re-looks at this generous tariff and reduces it, then the whole project does not work. If this does happen, then I was told we (as in Cornwall Council) will re-look at this plan. I asked if this tariff was cut in the review, then why spend the time and resources in getting this project this far? I was then told that this has to be all up and running before March 2012 to be locked into this generous tariff. As once in this tariff it’s locked for 25 years and is unable to be amended. (I am sure some smart lawyer on the Government pay-role could indeed find some clause to change it).

So you can see why Cornwall Council would like as many of these as possible as they really are a cash cow. The old saying robbing Peter to pay Paul never rung so true. As the government gives with one hand, you can bet it has a larger hand waiting to collect it back.

There is no getting away that we have to reduce our carbon footprint, and if there are enough of these Cornwall Council could be an energy supplier. But I am not sure if the people of Cornwall would benefit with cheaper electricity for having fields of panels in place of farmland.  Maybe someone thinks differently and thinks having more is a price worth paying. I mean what do I know, I am just a Councillor.

Solar Panels – The solution or fad?

Cornwall Council claims that up to £1 Billion could be invested in Cornwall by means of photo-voltaic solar power. The Council claims it might expect up to 100 planning applications each with around £10m worth of investment.
Now that sounds all very nice, but is these solar farms really cost effective? From my understanding these panel attract some rather large Government Funding to make them cost effective. 
Will the landscape of Cornwall be changed with fields of glass reflecting the sunlight? Will that spoil the environment in a more visual way? There is no getting away that we need to do something about renewable energy. We can’t go on the way we are going without a fundamental change to energy and how it’s produced.
Why Cornwall again? We were told we had to have the turbines because of the wind in the south west, but now we have to have the solar panels as well? It’s all well and good in having these in Cornwall, but does it make our energy prices cheaper for those affected by these being placed in our area? Will those areas most affected by compensated? It did not happen for those affected by the turbines. Maybe a lesson learnt there. Maybe these companies should now have to put their hands in those deep pockets and give something back to the communities affected.
I feel that Cornwall is going to be used (yet again) for large companies jumping onto the vast profit bandwagon with the latest fad. I will admit that I am no expert on this type of energy, but neither was I when I first started to learn about turbines. I learnt about turbines by means of briefings, reading and doing research. I guess I will now have to do the same for this before I have to make a decision that will affect those people who live close to these new farms.
The last issue for thought is out of the possible £1 billion invested, how much of the profit will actually stay in Cornwall?  My guess (and I am willing to be proven wrong) is very little.