Subsidy cut halts plans for huge Northumberland solar farm

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Plans for a huge solar farm near Ashington have been abandoned. This has removed a potential £8m financial lifeline for Northumberland County Council, who have admitted defeat in an ambitious plan to construct the region’s first large-scale solar farm.

Ambitious plans axed

The council had envisaged installing around 16,000 panels on a 10-hectare site within the Ashington Community Woodland to provide power for around 850 homes. However, shortly after the plans were drawn up, the Government axed subsidies for large-scale solar developments and, as a result, the council is unable to make the 4MW scheme financially viable.

While helping the council achieve its renewable targets, it would have also boosted the council’s finances by £400,000 a year, or a potential £8m over the lifetime of the project.

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “While the council is not going ahead with this project at present, we are looking at other opportunities to incorporate solar energy in Northumberland.

“We have installed solar PV (photo-voltaic) on 1,227 domestic properties and 148 public buildings, with 87 of these being schools

“We are planning to continue to install solar PV where it is financially cost neutral or cost effective to do so in the future.”

Financial pressures for council

The council recently learnt it will have to axe a further £57m from its budget over the next four years, and is considering how to trim services and boost revenues to tackle these financial pressures.

The development would also have been the first of its kind in the region, and it is now unlikely we will see any large-scale developments with the previously successful model, as it is no longer viable.

Jobs in jeopardy

Oliver Savory, public affairs and communications officer, for the Solar Trade Association (STA), said: “It is unfortunate that Northumberland County Council have made this decision, however the Solar Trade Association warned the Government that their new policy would severely restrict the solar industry and jeopardise jobs, and unfortunately we have been proved correct.

“The Government’s own statistics show an 85% fall in deployment of solar, so Ashington is by no means the only scheme to have been cancelled.”

Recent research by the STA and advisors PwC show that since the subsidy cuts around one-third of solar jobs have been lost, with one-third of companies planning on laying-off more in the future. This equates to about 500 job losses in the North East, with a further 500 at risk.

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