Tebworth Solar Farm: our new neighbour

Tebworth solar farm consists of two sites, outlined in red on the map, totalling 62 hectares or about 150 acres. One is inside Chalgrave parish boundary and one is just outside, on the other side of the A5.  Over the past few months, construction activity on solar farm on the Chalgrave site, opposite College Farm, between Toddington Road and Chalgrave Road, has intensified and, by the end of the summer, we should expect most of the work to be completed. Councillor Harvey Greenwood has kindly provided the adjacent images of the Chalgrave site, taken in mid-May. Arrays of solar panels, rising from 80cm at their lowest to 3 metres at their highest, will replace the familiar green fields. A new crop of solar energy will replace the arable crops that have grown here for centuries. Technically, the solar farm is a temporary structure and after a typical 35- to 40-year lease expires, the land could revert to agricultural use, but who knows what our land use priorities will be then?

Once the construction phase is completed, the stated aim is to remove construction equipment from the site and restore the road system to its original state within a month. A scheme of landscape and ecological improvements is promised, “ensuring the project provides a biodiversity gain”. This consists of the seeding and planting of the site and its boundaries and the implementation of a custom planting plan aligned with the planting seasons.

The project includes a battery storage element which will be integrated with the National Grid electricity network, close to the upgraded Sundon substation near Chalton, so that it can store electricity from the wider grid network as well as the Tebworth solar farm, minimising the amount of  energy that is lost.  While local residents should not expect to enjoy cheaper electricity as a result of the solar farm, the local grid network will be fuelled more sustainably, from renewable sources and with a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It will contribute towards the UK’s energy self-sufficiency.

Unlike a new housing development, which places financial obligations on the developers to upgrade the local infrastructure, a solar farm development is required only to make necessary improvements to the public highway, according to the provisions of section 278 of the Highways Act 1980. However, Scott Gilbert, the Managing Director of Verdant Energy, the joint venture that owns the project, has confirmed that they are open to a dialogue with the Parish Council and local residents about delivering “a real local community benefit”. The goal of the community benefits is to achieve a positive local impact, focusing on “initiatives relating to energy, sustainability, wildlife protection and community spaces”.

Tebworth solar farm is one of about 1,200 solar farms in the UK, generating about 14GW (gigawatts) of capacity.  (If you are interested in the national context for solar power – or indeed the global context, you will find this information at https://globalenergymonitor.org/projects/global-solar-power-tracker/)

The largest UK solar farm powers 91,000 homes and generates 350MW (megawatts). The Tebworth farm will power around 7,800 homes and, by implication, generate about 30MW. The government’s target is to reach 70GW of capacity by 2035. For comparison, there is about 11GW of wind turbine generation capacity and a target of 50GW by 2030. In the year to April 2024, renewables supplied roughly 40 per cent of UK electricity, dominated by wind (30 per cent) and only 5 per cent from solar.

While the project, believed to cost in the region of £25m, will create a little local employment, in most other respects this is an international endeavour that just happens to land in our back yard. Ib vogt, a solar energy company in Berlin, Germany, is the construction company, with a 20-year track record of global expertise and is also a shareholder in the project. The solar panels will almost certainly be manufactured in China, which has a global market share of 80%. DIF Capital Partners, the infrastructure investment company that acquired the Tebworth farm as part of a portfolio of assets it purchased from Enso Energy, is headquartered in the Netherlands. Last September, CVC Capital Partners, a Luxembourg-based private equity and advisory firm, acquired a majority stake in DIF Capital Partners.

One might well ask, where are the UK infrastructure funds that one might suppose would be the natural investors in a UK solar project? If the Tebworth solar farm is a commercial success – and similar projects are delivering a 10 to 20 per cent return on capital – those profits will accrue to foreign investors. It is paradoxical that the transition to renewable energy in the UK that enjoys rare bipartisan political support should require foreign risk capital to get off the ground. We look forward to the successful completion of the project and, with it, an end to the periodic disruption to traffic flow along the Dunstable Road.  We wish our new neighbour well.

For company updates, please visit https://www.tebworthsolarfarm.com/

NB This article refers only to the Tebworth solar farm. The Chalgrave Manor solar farm (which straddles Chalgrave, Chalton and Toddington parishes) is entirely separate.

 

Peter Warburton
30 May 2024

 

1 comment

  1. Will there be a Buffer Zone around the Chalgrave Manor solar farm (which straddles Chalgrave, Chalton and Toddington parishes)
    Specifically adjacent to College Farm along Chalgrave Road?

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