Decision expected on UK’s largest solar farm

Plans for the £450m Cleve Hill Park in Kent have divided opinion amid environmental concerns.

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A solar farm capable of delivering clean energy to 91,000 homes will be built on the north Kent coast if, as expected, it is approved by government ministers on Thursday.

Cleve Hill Park, a joint venture between Wirsol and Hive Energy Ltd, would become the largest facility of its kind in the UK, stretching some 900 acres just outside of Faversham. It would involve the construction of 880,000 solar panels, each with an energy capacity of 350MW.

The site would also include one of the largest energy storage units in the world – three times bigger than the lithium-ion battery built by Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, in Australia three years ago.

Cleve Hill’s developers are hoping to get the green light for their £450m project from the business secretary, Alok Sharma, following three years of talks with local stakeholders. If approved, construction on Cleve Hill would begin early next year, with a view to supplying electricity to local homes by 2023.

The project, though, has attracted plenty of opposition, on account of both its impact on the local wildlife and natural beauty of the countryside, and the perceived safety risks related to storing so much energy in one place.

Helen Whatley, the MP for Faversham, warned that the scheme “would destroy an entire landscape” when speaking to the Telegraph.

Meanwhile, the Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said in a statement: “The battery storage envisaged has caused fires and explosions around the world...It is equivalent to 602 tonnes of TNT, which is a twentieth of the TNT equivalent of the Hiroshima atom bomb.”

Nevertheless, Sharma, an outspoken proponent of solar projects and who told parliament in March that “solar photovoltaics are a UK success story”, is expected to give Cleve Hill the go-ahead on Thursday.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman

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