P4P Chair joins Chris Skidmore MP to learn about advancements in onshore wind and solar farms
On the 15 June, P4P Chair Baroness Hayman joined Chris Skidmore MP on a visit to England’s tallest and most powerful onshore wind turbine and a mixed solar and livestock farm near Leighton Buzzard.
Onshore wind - Energy Hub visit
The first stop on the tour was to see how former quarrying land can be repurposed into an innovative net zero development. AW Group who runs the site have plans for it to be further developed, subject to planning approval, into an innovative energy hub comprising a wind turbine, ground source heat network, solar array and EV charging provision.
Onshore wind technology has moved on since the original moratorium in 2015 and whole communities can now be powered by single (or small clusters) of wind turbines rather than the conventional large scale 'utility wind farms' that we think of. Those on the visit also learnt how ground source heat pumps can often be more efficient than air source heat pumps but most developers automatically turn to air source heat pumps because they are easier and cheaper to install.
Despite these advancements, those in attendance were told that current restrictions on onshore wind development, and delays to grid connections, are barriers to progress and investment in projects like these. The changes to Ofgem's remit to include a net zero duty was welcomed and it was hoped that this could start to drive some of the grid infrastructure changes needed for developing net zero communities.
Lightsource BP - Manor Farm solar site
The next stop on the visit was to a 7MW solar farm (which can power 2,000 homes). The solar farm demonstrated how it is possible to combine agriculture and solar farms on the same land. The land has been allowed to rewild with sheep grazing, wildflowers, and other wildlife (such as birds, insects, bats) and the aim is to deliver biodiversity net gain within 5 years.
The site managers highlighted how less productive farmland can serve dual purposes of energy generation and habitat restoration. They also raised the issue of grid connection delays and the huge amounts of generation capacity currently in the queue, and suggested there could be reforms to the grid queuing system to deal with the issue of so-called 'phantom projects' which do not yet have planning permission taking up space and proposed 'ready to build' assets such as solar farms should be prioritised.
The visit was a positive showcase of how sites can be developed to support multiple low-carbon generation technologies, combined with nature restoration. The challenge now remains for policy makers to ensure we have a planning system, skills pipeline, and energy network infrastructure primed to support technologies that offer the cheapest and fastest deployable clean energy to help meet net zero and improve our energy security.