Solar farm

The UK’s first solar farm has been granted planning permission, and it is hoped that it will produce £462,000 a year from the Feed-in Tariff incentive.

35 Degrees, a Slough-based company, is planning to build the 1.5-megawatt peak capacity farm at the former Wheal Jane tin mine, near Truro in Cornwall. The plan is ambitious: there are plans for some 5,760 panels, standing in frames two metres above the ground, at a cost of £4 million.

Even though this is the first largest-scale solar farm to be built, planning permission was granted a mere 13 weeks after the application was made – fast by any standards. This nicely highlights the importance of local authorities in smoothing the path of a renewable future.

It’s not all sunshine though; there are potential problems that could result from light reflection, and numerous reports will have to be submitted to show how these problems will be mitigated.

There could be another issue: how will people take to solar panels on the landscape? Some people view wind turbines as being not aesthetically pleasing, and indeed the world’s largest windfarm has just been sited offshore. Will solar panels en masse prove any more acceptable to the public?

There is one school of thought that views solar panels and other renewables as things of beauty – even as art – so perhaps these solar farms might even become desirable landmarks in the unused ‘back yards’ of the UK.

This question could also just be one of familiarity. Some argue that electricity power lines are ugly, but that because we are used to them we rarely complain. Indeed, in the children’s book The Iron Man, by the poet Ted Hughes, an electricity pylon becomes a magical live being for a little boy; the animated film The Iron Giant, based on it, was very popular and sparked no protests against pylons.

One thing is for sure, one way or the other: this solar farm in Cornwall is just the start. With a target of producing 15% of our energy through renewables by 2020, we are going to have plenty of chance to get used to renewable energy on our doorstep.