£2.2m solar farm shelved, despite council’s near-£260,000 spend
Twm Owen, Local Democracy Reporter
A council has shelved plans for a £2.2 million solar farm due to a dispute – despite having already spent more than a quarter of a million pounds on the scheme.
The plan would have seen solar panels erected across a former landfill site, and would have produced enough electricity to offset 21 per cent of the council’s annual carbon emissions and earn it £63,000 in revenue every year for 35 years.
But, although Torfaen County Borough Council has already spent £259,956 on the project planned for the former Ty Coch landfill site in Llantarnam, Cwmbran, it said it has had to pull the plug as it cannot overcome a dispute with the preferred bidder that won a tender exercise to construct it.
The plan for a small solar farm was first agreed by the cabinet, and backed by the full council, in January 2020. but was delayed by the pandemic and the lockdown.
However, after awarding the tender in June last year, there were further delays during autumn 2021 and into the winter after the contractor proposed changes which the council said it could not agree to while it also said market conditions had changed, making small scale farms less viable.
Rachel Jowitt, the borough’s chief officer for neighbourhood and planning, told the full council: “The preferred bidder didn’t follow the council’s requirements.”
A report said changes proposed by the contractor didn’t comply with the planning permission and the steps required to support biodiversity.
Ms Jowitt said it may be possible to revive the project in future, and if it could be brought back the money spent so far wouldn’t be lost as it holds geological and ecological information on the site and design work could be carried forward.
But the council doesn’t intend to start even small-scale engineering works to preserve the planning permission – which is due to expire in 2024 – while capacity problems with Uskmouth power station means there is no chance of a grid connection before 2027 at least, with the council having lost the connection it had secured.
Independent councillor for Llantarnam David Thomas said he and other councillors “expressed grave concerns” over the plan in 2018 and 2020.
He said: “£259,956 of Torfaen taxpayers’ money has been spent on this project with nothing to show for it, it was wishful thinking in the extreme to think this project would ever be viable now or in the future.
“At what point does this Labour led authority take responsibility for losing over a quarter of a million pounds of Torfaen taxpaers’ money? Who is going to make a public apology and how are we going to get this money back?”
Council officer Ms Jowitt said the project had always been on the council’s “risk register” and other neighbouring authorities have previously successfully completed such projects. She said: “The business case did stack up at the time.”
She added: “We were trying to be innovative and bold. I’m deeply sorry this report has come to you, it’s not something I want to have on my watch.”
Council leader Anthony Hunt said the council had declared a climate emergency and said: “We are not going to meet the requirements of that promise unless we take some risks. Yes, I regret the way this has happened.”
Cllr Thomas responded: “So no-one is making a public apology?”
Cllr Hunt, who represents Panteg, also said he would write to power firm Western Power Distribution over the Uskmout connection problem which is also a concern to Newport and Monmouthshire councils and businesses in the area.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.