New 49MW solar farm proposed for Little Hale Fen

A new solar farm with a generating capacity of over 49MW is being proposed for fenland near a Sleaford area village.

Planning

Applicants AGR Solar 2 are proposing the site for farm and at Little Hale Fen to the south east of Little Hale and on the opposite side of the South Forty Foot Drain to the wind farm at Bicker.

Associated infrastructure would include grid connection cabling over or under the river to Bicker Fen electricity substation.

Still in its early stages, the developers are seeking opinion from North Kesteven District Council planners on how wide ranging they need to be in producing an environmental impact assessment - if at all - of how the 79 hectare solar farm is likely to affect the area.

Little Hale Drove to the north would be used for construction traffic and maintenance access which would come through Little Hale - the developers predict it would take 2,500 two-way trip deliveries to complete the 36-week construction.

There will also be on average 50 staff travelling to the site per day, on average. “Overall, traffic generated during construction traffic would be modest and would be short term and temporary,” they predict. “The operational phase would generate a small number of trips related to monitoring and maintenance of the equipment.”

Plans for another solar farm has begun to be considered nearby at Vicarage Drove, Bicker.

A 50MW solar farm was approved for land west of Walcot, near Folkingham in June this year, a 20MW solar farm was agreed south of Gorse Lane in Silk Willoughby two years ago, as was a 32MW solar farm for land north of White Cross Lane, Burton Gorse, south of Sleaford,

The applicants say the photovoltaic (PV) solar panels would stand up to three metres high) on support frames, surrounded by associated storage and switchgear buildings, inverter and transformer stations, fenced off with CCTV security.

They state: “The proposed development would be for a time limited period of 40 years after which time the site would be decommissioned and restored back to full agricultural use.”

Soil would only be stripped to lay foundations for buildings and tracks.

They offer a no dig solution for any archaeological areas requiring preservation. Although good arable land, during operation, the land under the solar panels would be managed for biodiversity gains and sheep grazing/mowing as required.

The cable route would follow the minor lanes and cross over or under the South Forty Foot Drain.

They state: “The proposed development would facilitate the generation of renewable energy and this would conserve natural resources that would otherwise be used to generate power. Whilst the solar panels, frames and ancillary equipment would use natural resources during construction this would not be in significant quantities that could have wider significant environmental impacts.

The site would not generate waste nor pollution apart from emissions from construction traffic, says the firm.

“There are limited residential properties near to the site and in the unlikely event of an explosion or fire at one of the inverters/transformers or battery storage containers the risk to the public would be negligible.”

The majority of the site is at high risk of flooding, with some parts anticipated to be at medium risk. Further work would be undertaken to ensure that flood sensitive equipment is located above predicted flood levels.

The proposed development would have a 5-6m buffer zone seeded with species rich grassland and wildflowers and managed for biodiversity benefits and to improve the habitat within the site. This would include planting of appropriate food sources to enhance the existing habitats for water voles, etc.

“Overall, it is considered that the development would not have any significant adverse effects on biodiversity and that there is potential for net biodiversity gains as a result of taking the land out of intensive arable production and managing the areas under and around the solar panels for habitat benefits,” says AGR Solar 2.

It would also be screened with hedgerow and tree planting to limit visual impact. An existing public right of way ould be diverted to follow the existing farm track.

They add that the area around the substation is the subject for a number of strategic energy infrastructure applications and the landscape character and visual context of the areas is evolving into one where energy infrastructure is a key characteristic.