The main impact of a PV park is visual, by virtue of its scale, materials and setting. We try to look for sites which are distant and screened or elevated from residential areas and with existing natural screening such as hedges. This site is remote from residential dwellings and views of the site from England to the north would be seen against the backdrop of the industrial estate beyond. A landscape and visual impact assessment (LVIA) was conducted by a qualified landscape architect and was submitted with the planning application. It assessed the impact of the development in the receiving landscape, and made recommendations for mitigating any impact, such as hedge planting to provide screening. In many cases a tall hedge can ensure that a solar park is largely unseen.
Security fencing was required around the site (because of high voltage electrics) and to reduce the possibility of theft or vandalism. We also needed to install ground radar to identify intruders and infrared cameras to remotely monitor the site. These have been kept to a minimum and are located to reduce visual impact and respect people’s privacy. Fencing is permeable to small animals and there are no lights or audible alarms at the site.
The local ecology was assessed via an independent ecology survey, submitted with the planning application and making recommendations to ensure any sensitive species that use the site are protected during construction and operation. After installation the land cannot be mechanically farmed, but birds and insect life can be supported by planting grasses or nectar-rich and seed-producing species. The wide avenues between panels (usually 4-6 metres) can also be used to graze sheep, sow lavender or keep beehives. The proposal is therefore expected to enhance the area’s ecology, rather than have any detrimental effects on it. At the end of a solar farm’s life, everything can be easily returned to agricultural use.
This often causes concern, particularly in relation to any nearby roads. However, modern solar panels are designed to absorb the maximum amount of light, as any light lost is efficiency reduced – around 90% of light is absorbed and only 10% reflected. The glass of the panels is also textured rather than sheer, creating ‘diffuse’ rather than ‘spectral’ reflection to reduce the issue still further. Indeed, the level of reflectivity from solar panels is lower than that of surfaces commonly found in rural areas.
The historic and landscape context, location and setting of the site was assessed by an independent heritage report, submitted with the planning application.
The UK has ambitious and legally-binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to tackle climate change and its consequences. The Government also aims to decrease our (growing) dependence on imported or ‘brown’ energy sources, while reducing the overall cost of green energy. Renewable energy from solar is an essential part of the move to green energy. This site is well suited to solar PV technology.