Councillor likens £24 million plan for solar farm to flooding of Tryweryn
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A councillor has likened a solar farm planned on fields in Carmarthenshire to the flooding of a Welsh valley to supply Liverpool with water.
Cllr Gareth Thomas said the 65-hectare renewable energy project proposed at Llanedi, in the east of the county, was “the same kind of concept”.
The Tryweryn Valley which included the village of Capel Celyn, was flooded in 1965 to create a new reservoir for the English city to the north east.
Cllr Thomas said the company behind the solar farm application was from outside Wales, and that the solar panels would come from China.
“We have to questions that sort of thing,” he said. “How are we going to benefit from this?”
Cllr Thomas, ward member for Hendy, was speaking at a council planning committee meeting about the Pegasus Group application, which will be determined by Welsh ministers because it is a considered a development of national significance.
The county council is a key consultee in the process and will submit a local impact report to the planning inspector who will in turn make a recommendation to ministers.
The planning committee set out specific issues it wanted addressed. These included a detailed and robust decommissioning plan for the solar farm once its 40-year lifespan drew to an end, the question of financial contributions for the communities affected, the scheme’s long-term impact on the farmland it was proposed for and its impact on biodiversity.
Renewable energy schemes qualify as developments of national significance if they fulfil criteria including no unacceptable adverse visual impacts on nearby communities, and enhancement measures to provide a net biodiversity benefit.
Cllr Thomas said the community of Llanedi was opposed to the 36 megawatt project, and questioned how it would generate £500,000 per year to the Carmarthenshire economy, as stated in the application.
He also said productive farmland would be impacted – and called for more emphasis on solar panels on industrial buildings.
‘Can’t be good’
“It can’t be good for the environment, whichever way you look at it,” he said.
A planning officer said sheep would be able to graze beneath the solar arrays and that the applicant was looking to increase the mix of species around them. And hedgerows would be planted to screen the panels.
Cllr Deryk Cundy said he felt on balance that a scheme providing the equivalent electricity used by 10,600 households was “a pretty good use of the land in this case”.
Cllr Tyssul Evans said he wouldn’t be happy for “fruitful agricultural land” to make way for solar panels.
A number of other solar farms are operating or planned close to Pegasus Group’s proposed scheme.
Committee chairman, Cllr Alun Lenny, said it emerged during a previous planning hearing about one of them that community benefits were not a material planning consideration and were down to discussions between an applicant and communities affected.
Cllr Kevin Madge said he felt there was “a policy vacuum” in this regard.
“We need to get the powers that impose a community benefit,” he said.
“It would make a huge difference to the community.”
He and Cllr Ken Howell said communities in Betws and Brechfa respectively were benefiting financially from wind farms in their patch.
Pegasus Group’s application includes several assessments and studies.
If given the go-ahead by the Welsh Government, the £24 million energy project would take around eight months to build and create 67 direct and indirect construction jobs.
The report before the committee said that, according to the application, the landscape would be enhanced once the solar panels were decommissioned.