Published: 00:02, 09 November 2017
Britain’s biggest solar farm could be built on the edge of Whitstable on a site the size of 900 football pitches.
Developers have today unveiled plans to blanket 890 acres of farmland near Graveney with the energy-producing panels.
The firm behind the £400 million project, Cleve Hill Solar Park, says the farm will be capable of generating enough electricity to power 110,000 homes, equivalent to the number in Swale and Canterbury combined.
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The scheme is so big that it is the first of its kind to be classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), meaning it will need to be signed off by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
But a lengthy public consultation will be carried out first, including meetings in Faversham, Graveney, Seasalter and Leysdown next month.
Hugh Brennan, of solar industry specialists Hive Energy, which is a partner in the project with Wirsol Energy, said: “The Cleve Hill Solar Park is a pioneering scheme, including the potential for new technologies like battery storage.
“Our ambition is to deliver the first non-subsidised renewables project of this scale, delivering low-cost, clean, homegrown energy to power UK households.
“We are still at the very early stages of developing our proposals, which is why we want to start talking now with local communities to understand their views and listen to their ideas.
“I would encourage anyone with an interest in our plans to come along to meet us at one of our upcoming consultation events to find out more.”
The solar panels will sit on low-grade farmland lining the north Kent coast between Faversham and Whitstable.
They will send electricity to the nearby London Array sub-station, which already receives power from the offshore wind farm.
A second phase of consultation will follow early next year, with submission of the application scheduled for later in 2018.
The huge scheme is already raising concerns among environmental groups.
Director of the Kent branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Hilary Newport said: “Our initial concerns focus on the sheer scale of this proposal.
“At 890 acres, it’s about the size of Central Park in New York.
"Our initial concerns focus on the sheer scale of this proposal" - Hilary Newport
"We are of course supportive of clean renewable energy, but such schemes should be incorporated into the built environment - including every new home having solar panels - rather than taking up so much agricultural land in such a sensitive landscape and in an area that is so important for people and wildlife.”
Kent Wildlife Trust is concerned the development could impact on the neighbouring South Swale Nature Reserve, which it manages.
Greg Hitchcock, Thames Gateway officer for the Trust, added: “While we are not opposed to solar farms, and indeed are supportive of initiatives to reduce human reliance on fossil fuel energy generation, we are concerned about the potential impacts from this proposal on the internationally important habitats and wildlife in this area.
“The design proposals and impact assessments are at an early stage and we will be scrutinising these as they progress, and we will seek to influence any decisions made to get the best possible outcome for wildlife.
“This a very important area for wildlife.”
The plans will be available for inspection in libraries in Faversham, Boughton-under-Blean and Teynham.
They can also be seen at the Sheppey Gateway in Sheerness, the Alexander Centre in Faversham, Swale Borough Council offices in Sittingboourne, Canterbury City Council offices and County Hall at Maidstone.
The first phase of community consultation events are being held at:
For more information about the proposals and details of the consultation events go to www.clevehillsolar.com