Anyone concerned what might result from the current enthusiasm among land owners for solar-powered electricity generation could do worse than pay attention to next week's Strategic Planning Committee meeting at County Hall, which is being advised to approve a 36.5-acre solar farm at North Petherwin, near Launceston.
The generous (ie tax-funded) feed-in tariffs for photo-voltaic (PV) energy mean landowners can't lose. Solar farm developers, in this case German-owned Kronos Solar, are in line for huge profits. As the company's own website advises potential investors:
"The risk-return relationship of PV is unrivaled (sic). With the Government's backing of the Feed-In-Tariff, revenues and hence returns for investors come state guaranteed."Yet in terms of "green" energy, the forecast 5MW generated at North Petherwin is only slightly more than half that generated by the wind farm at Delabole.
In the coming months we will see how Cornwall Council's approach to solar energy develops. While welcoming the "potential billion pounds investment" some councillors are nervous about the planning issues implicit in such a land-hungry technology.
Up at Winsdon Farm, North Petherwin, the local parish council is leading objections to the Kronos application. Wildlife groups want studies into the effects of the development on bats and badgers. The Council for the Protection of Rural England (Cornwall) is concerned about the impact on landscape.
Despite this, council planning officials recommend approval at Thursday's meeting. The previous day, members of the Environment & Economy Overview & Scutiny Committee will be encouraged to get a grip of the whole "green energy" agenda. Officials say:
"There has never been a strategically approved mechanism / delivery plan to underpin the achievement of the Council's carbon reduction and energy self-sufficiency targets. Similarly there is no renewable energy delivery plan for the whole of Cornwall. The Council is opening itself up to criticism if it does not have a robust strategic delivery plan for its own well publicised programme."
For a reminder of the more general issues involved in the solar energy gold rush, my earlier blog post is here.