Tuesday, 27 November 2012

U.K. biggest solar plant cleared for construction at airfield

15 Nov 2012

Lark Energy, a unit of the homebuilder Larkfleet Ltd., won planning permission to develop a 32 MW solar park that will become the UK's largest photovoltaic plant.

The company intends to complete the 35 million-pound ($55 million) plant before April, when subsidies are due to be reduced, according to a statement on its website today. It will install 125,000 solar panels on 150 acres between the runways of a former military airfield in Wymeswold, which is between Leicester and Nottingham in central England.

The project covering the equivalent to about 87 soccer fields has more than six times more capacity than any U.K, solar park in operation. Its development is an indication that the cost of solar panels has fallen so much that developers are working on utility-scale plants too big to qualify for the most lucrative subsidies in Britain.

"Lark Energy has played a leading role in demonstrating how large scale renewable energy can be deployed quickly and with the support of the local community", Jonathan Selwyn, managing director of Lark Energy, said in a statement.

While the scale of the facility is big for Britain, it's less than half the size of the largest plants in Germany and Italy, which are the leading markets worldwide for solar power. The U.K, guarantees above market rates for solar power coming from plants smaller than 5 MWs, a cap intended to limit the cost to consumers of power from utility-scale plants.

Biggest Plants
TGC Renewables Ltd., another developer, said in June that it won approval for an 8 MW project in Devon that at the time was the biggest in the UK. Inazin Power Ltd., Hive Energy Ltd, and Good Energy Group Plc (GOOD), a U.K, retailer of clean energy, have announced plans for projects with 25 to 40 MWs this year, though those don't yet have planning permission.

Projects of this size qualify for two tradable green certificates, or ROCs, for each MW of solar power. The certificates currently pay about 39.5 pounds each during 15 years, which add up to one of the lowest solar subsidy rates in Europe. Under government proposals, solar plants will get 1.5 ROCs from April, a cut that's prompting a surge of larger-scale facilities before the changes come into force.

Lark's Wymeswold solar project received planning approval from Charnwood Borough Council on Nov. 8, the company said. The financing will provided by Hazel Capital LLP, a London-based investment manager. "We are delighted to be involved in this large, first-of-its-kind project in the UK", Ben Guest, Hazel Capital's managing partner, said. "We believe that larger industrial sites make great locations for solar projects going forward in the U.K".