Plans for massive solar farm advance despite concerns
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Plans for a massive solar farm in the south of Rhondda Cynon Taf which could generate enough power for the equivalent of a small town have taken a step forward.
The application to build a “solar park” on farmland between Church Village and Treforest which could power around 7,000 typical family homes in what the planning report said is a development of national significance went before RCT’s planning and development committee on Thursday, 9 February.
The commitee has now submitted a local impact report for consideration by the planning inspector.
RPS Group Ltd, the agent for the applicant Elgin Energy EsCo Ltd, said that the Maes Mawr Solar Farm will have a capacity of approximately 30MW (MegaWatts) with the power generated being fed into the electricity distribution network.
The proposal is fully reversible at the end of its 40-year life and will be decommissioned with the land returned to agricultural use.
The power generated will be enough to power approximately 7,000 typical family homes and result in an approximate saving of 1,124 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) a year.
The company said if the project is approved, the solar farm will contribute to the Welsh Government’s 2030 target of renewably generating electricity equal to 70% of its consumption.
The proposal is to build a 30MW solar farm comprising solar panels and frames, inverters, transformers, cabling and a substation at Maes Mawr.
It would also include a new access, internal access tracks, fencing, security measures, underground on site cabling, and a grid connection cable which will connect the site to the point of connection at the existing Western Power Distribution (WPD) substation to the north east within the Treforest Industrial
The facility would have a lifespan of 40 years and would be fully reversible at the end of its 40-year life, the planning report said.
Although the application was considered by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s planning and development committee on Thursday, February 9, this was to submit a local impact report to Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW) as an inspector will make the decision on the application.
A decision lies outside the council’s jurisdiction but the local impact report sets out the likely impact of the proposed development on the area.
The report has to provide a factual, objective view of the likely impact of the proposed development on the area based on Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council’s local knowledge and robust evidence of local issues and in terms of their positive, neutral or negative effects.
The application site is located on land between Church Village and Treforest Industrial Estate. To the east of the site is a main railway line linking Cardiff and the Valleys whilst the A473 lies to the west.
The site includes around 40 hectares (98.8 acres) and is made up of several parcels of land. The parcels are an “irregular” shape and are made up of a series of agricultural fields of different sizes which are mainly used for pasture grazing. Field boundaries are made up of trees, hedgerows and some woodland.
The application site has historically been agricultural land certainly since the late nineteenth century, the planning report said.
In its conclusion, the report said it is considered that the proposed development will have a negative impact in landscape visual terms but that it is considered that these impacts can be reduced to relatively minor impacts with appropriate mitigation.
It said that the applicant claims that the impacts of the proposed development on interests of ecology and nature conservation can, with appropriate mitigation, achieve a neutral impact but the council’s ecologist doubts this, as he believes that the applicants have only justified their stance in respect of part of the site.
Other key impacts tend to be neutral in nature or even potentially beneficial, the report said.
It added that: “Planning Policy Wales 11 and Future Wales: The National Plan 2040 clearly offer strong support for the provision of renewable energy projects across Wales, and it is clear from those policy documents that there is a strong presumption in favour of such projects to the point where adverse impacts have to be particularly severe for a refusal of consent to be justified.
“Given that, the adverse impacts in this case are mostly relatively minor and can be improved with mitigation it is advised that members offer no objections to the proposals subject to the appointed inspector including the conditions outlined in the Local Impact Report should he/she be minded to grant planning permission in this case.”
The local impact report suggest a number of conditions that could be applied regarding how it is delivered.
Councillor Wendy Lewis said it is a real shame that the western half of the site will suffer a significant negative impact.
She said she would be one of the first to say that they do need green energy but hopes that the contractor will be sympathetic with this site of importance for nature conservation.
Councillor Mike Powell asked if they could involve the council’s ecologist to keep an eye on the development.
He added that when you read the ecologist’s view of this it doesn’t bode well for some of it and to lose linnets and woodcocks and the likes is a backward step even though they are trying to improve the environment with green energy.
The committed also decided to send a further letter to PEDW to highlight its concerns over ecology.
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