Our client, Scottow Moor Solar Limited, has just connected one of the UK’s largest solar projects. We were privileged to be invited to see the final stages of construction at the site by the project’s driving force, shareholder and director, David Fyffe.
The scale of the solar power development at the former RAF Coltishall in Norwich is almost overwhelming. Row upon row of solar panels, a little over 2.5 metres high, stretch over the grass around the former runway, receding somewhat into the mist on the day we visited – 18 March. (Mist isn’t too much of a problem for a solar park, by the way: it only needs daylight to work.)
The solar development is the largest consented solar park in the United Kingdom, with a 50MW consented capacity. This is as big as an electricity generation plant can be and still only need planning permission and not special “section 36” consent. The first 33.68MW of capacity has been connected: comprising more than 132,000 solar panels over 270 acres of former airbase. The site is expected to generate around 33 gigawatt hours of electricity every year for the next 25 years.
But only eight weeks ago, all this was just fields. On 1 January, it didn’t have planning consent. We understand this is the fastest large scale solar power development ever erected in Europe. A combination of factors helped: the site is wonderful in terms of access, grid location, aspect and ground conditions. At least as importantly, all interested parties wanted the project and, critically, the team has throughout been level-headed, efficient and smart.
A project of this scale requires solving thousands of small problems: from the lay out of the site, electrical connections, delivering all the plant and equipment, panels, inverters, cables, steel, ensuring the site conditions are safe, knowing where the existing cables and pipelines are, keeping the neighbours happy, preserving historic monuments, to feeding and housing the 200 or so contractors who worked flat out for 8 weeks to build the project on time.
And the site was not without its challenges. RAF Coltishall has a long and distinguished history as a fighter base, dating to the outbreak of WWII. There are several historically important structures, including Spitfire fighter pens and an example of a cold war blast bunker. The development had to be sensitively designed to ensure these structures retained their character. As a former military site, a potential hazard is unexploded ordnance. The RAF cleared up the site before they left in 2006 and, as testament to their efficiency, only one bullet was found in the pre-build survey.
Since passing into the hands of Norfolk County Council, the site has become a haven for skylarks. There were fears that the skylarks would move on, and Scottow Moor must ensure a new habitat is provided. However, the onsite ornithologist has observed skylarks happily foraging below the panels – surprising behaviour for birds that prefer open air above their heads.
The solar development is part of wider plans Norfolk County Council has to transform the former airbase into a creative and enterprise hub. On completion of construction, the site will be seeded with a wildflower mix to encourage plant diversity. Growth will be controlled with grazing sheep, all as the panels quietly and unobtrusively harvest energy from the sun.
1. Panorama showing part of the site from the airstrip. The cardboard packaging boxes are crushed and sent to be used in a biomass boiler.
2. On the way to surely the best site office ever: the former observation tower.
3. Business lunch at the site office.
4. View of the solar park from the site office.
5. VIDEO – adding the last few panels – Click here
6. The old signs are still there.
The information and opinions contained in this blog are for information only. They are not intended to constitute advice and should not be relied upon or considered as a replacement for advice. Before acting on any of the information contained in this blog, please seek specific advice from Gilson Gray.