Solar farm plans questioned by council climate change chair

PUBLISHED: 11:26 09 February 2011 | UPDATED: 14:24 09 February 2011

Public consultation at Croydon Reading Rooms exhibiting plans for a solar farm. Vogt managing director Anton Milner.

Public consultation at Croydon Reading Rooms exhibiting plans for a solar farm. Vogt managing director Anton Milner.

Daniel Wilson

QUESTIONS have been raised by the chairman of a council climate change group concerned about proposed solar farms, two of which are planned for Crow country.

QUESTIONS have been raised by the chairman of a council climate change group concerned about proposed solar farms, two of which are planned for Crow country.

Peter Topping of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Climate Change Working Group, says he is worried that four possible sites in the region may be taking advantage of favourable rates at the expense of the local community.

He said: “Suddenly there is all this activity to spread solar panels across pockets of countryside. They will be there for 25 years.

“These are not community based schemes, but investor-backed proposals taking advantage of the favourable rates for electricity that the government has offered.

“They may be a really good idea, but when are we going to have the debate about something that will still be there a quarter of a century later?

“Who gets the best deal out of this – the people, the planet, or the investors?”

The farms, proposed by Vogt Solar for Croydon and Bourn, and by Low Carbon Solar for Thriplow and Ickleton, are in the early stages of planning, and no applications have been received by the council.

Mr Topping fears that firms providing renewable energy may be taking advantage of the government’s feed-in-tariff which guarantees that electricity generated will have a set rate for 25 years, 30p per kilowatt, if the project is completed within 12 months.

He said: “The people who are making most of the money out of these farms are the investors who have got a 25-year guaranteed return on the electricity generated.

“It’s a very good rate of return. The government was trying to encourage solar panels on schools and they have supported a guaranteed rate.”

The proposed site in Croydon would be expected to have about 20,000 panels, and supply enough energy for 1,200 homes.

Vogt Solar held an exhibition in Croydon on Monday for residents, which was attended by the managing director of the company.

Anton Milner said: “It’s a simple fact that the people who are going to do it are the people who are going to invest because they want a return.

“This type of investment costs around £10million at the current rate.

“There has to be an incentive to invest because that’s the way that capitalism works.”

Mr Milner, who is originally from Sheffield but has spent 17 years in Germany, added that the renewable energy job market in Germany employed between 70,000-100,000 people, and that projects similar to this one could create work for local people.

“What we do in this work is encourage the industry jobs being created,” he said.

“We have just started here, and at an office in Cambridge, we have three people working for us.

“I spend half my time here and one of my German managers spends all his time here.

“That’s the result of what we will find here, we will have the start of an industry.

“All of the jobs of this type are science and technology pure.”

However Mr Milner says that the majority of the jobs will be planning and that the UK has left it “too late” to compete in the manufacture of renewable products.

It is estimated that if the project proceeds that only two or three people will be required to maintain the site and 30 local contractors may find work in construction.

But the ex-pat says he understands the concerns and adds that job creation is not what drives the creation of solar farms.

“I can understand the local concerns but all of these renewable energy sources are coming from a completely angle.

“If we don’t do anything in the next 5-7 years to stop the growth of CO2 the temperature could rise by 4-6 degrees.

“At four degrees change what happens is we can have a complete change in society,” he said

However local people were not entirely convinced.

“At least it’s not a wind farm, but that’s not saying much,” said Emma Steward.

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