Huge solar park to progress despite cuts

The Royal Bath & West of England Society is forging ahead with plans to create a 14ha solar photovoltaic park, despite potential cuts in government funding.

The project is the first phase of a £120m regeneration of the society’s site in Somerset, which could become the UK’s first energy self-sufficient showground. But the government’s review of grant support for solar power means that valuable feed-in tariffs may be cut from 29p/kWh to just 8p/kWh. “This consultation renders (the project) completely uneconomic,” said chief executive Jane Guise.

“The original plan was for us to apply for planning permission on Wednesday (13 April) and for diggers to arrive on 1 September. That plan remains in place – we are continuing with the planning permission – but we wait to see if the diggers arrive.”

Other countries had gone through a similar process – panicking and cutting feed-in tariffs, before increasing them again due to lack of interest from developers, said Dr Guise. So the society wanted to get planning permission in place, ready to begin work as soon as the tariffs returned to more viable levels. It would also help potential investors to obtain full planning consent for the next phases of development, including a hotel, countryside shopping centre and an exhibition centre.

Creating these new income streams would mean the society could invest in its outdated show facilities, to secure a vibrant future for the annual Bath & West Show (1-4 June), she added.