Posted: Wed 6th Dec 2023

Deeside Solar Park seeks 15-year life extension but RSPB raises concerns

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Dec 6th, 2023

The operator behind Deeside Solar Park wants to extend its originally proposed operational life by a further 15 years.

However the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has voiced concerns.

Commissioned in March 2016 and built in just six weeks, Shotwick Solar Park was collaboratively developed by We-Link Energy and Compton Group.

Built on agricultural fields north of the A458, Weighbridge Rd, the site is close to a grid connection and Deeside Industrial Park, known for its high electricity consumption.

Often touted as the UK’s largest solar park, the 250-acre site produces 45MW of electricity, enough power for 11,000 homes.

Initially sanctioned for a 25-year duration, the solar farm, equipped with high-efficiency panels, has the potential to produce electricity well beyond this period.

Murray Planning Associates, representing Compton Group, the park operators, have applied to Flintshire County Council, seeking to modify the original planning permission, aiming for a 40-year operational span.

In a letter to the council, a representative of Murray Planning Associates states: “This application proposes no physical changes to the solar farm or any of the mitigation measures previously permitted.”

“The panels themselves are also capable of an electricity generating life much greater than the 25-year period.”

“Therefore, whilst the efficiency of the installed solar panels and infrastructure will reduce over time, it has been determined that the solar farm can continue to operate viably beyond the 25-year period in a subsidy-free market.”

“In essence, the project can make very effective use of the existing infrastructure and grid connection during years 25-40 and continue to make a significant contribution to Government renewable energy generation targets.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has voiced concerns over the proposal to extend the solar park’s operational life.

The organisation has highlighted issues regarding the management of mitigation land near the RSPB’s Burton Mere Wetlands Reserve.

As part of the original plans, Compton allocated a 19-hectare ecological enhancement area, located between the development area and adjacent Burton Mere reserve.

The nearby Dee Estuary is a statutorily designated site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation, and Special Protection Areas. Bewick’s swans form part of the overwintering assemblage of the SPA.

The land, critical for the survival of SPA qualifying bird species, appears to be inadequately managed.

The RSPB has pointed out non-compliance with the approved Habitat Management Plan (HMP), citing irregularities in crop cultivation and unauthorised wildfowl shooting activities.

These have reportedly disturbed the area and led to a notable decline in the numbers of Bewick’s Swan and Whooper Swan, alongside changes in their wintering patterns.

In response, the RSPB has proposed revisions to the HMP to better accommodate the changing wildlife dynamics, including the increasing numbers of Pink-footed Geese.

They have offered to take on the management of the land, ensuring adherence to conservation best practices.

In a response to Flintshire County Council, Jeremy Sutton, RSPB Senior Conservation Officer – North West, said:

“UK Wintering numbers of Red-listed Bewick’s Swan have declined by 95% in the past three decades, and the wintering distribution has moved in a generally eastern direction. This is probably the most significant reason for the lack of use of farmland around the Dee Estuary, and it could no longer be said that this farmland supports these species in numbers of Welsh National Importance.”

“As such, we consider that management of the mitigation land as agreed in the HMP should be revised to be more suitable for the range of species that are present within the Dee Estuary in Winter, including the increasing numbers of Pink-footed Geese, Anser Brachyrhynchus, which were considered absent from the Estuary in 2000 and now number almost 20,000 birds, more than 4% of the GB wintering population.”

“We therefore encourage the Council if it is minded to approve the application, to begin negotiations with the Applicant to seek changes to the agreed HMP so that the mitigation land continues to deliver a significant biodiversity benefit for the c.30-year lifespan of the Solar Park.”

“In addition to these considerations, the RSPB wishes to propose that it could be well placed to manage this land based on current best practice for the benefit of pink-feet and wintering SPA species, or as a buffer to our reserve.”

Mr Sutton states: “We understand that the RSPB was considered in this role previously when a now-retired member of staff was Site Manager and were unable to take up the option. Our position has now changed.”

“Clearly to enable this to happen, there would need to be discussion and licensing or transfer of undertakings to the RSPB, which we seek as a possible outcome of the current proposal.”

Flintshire Council expects to make a decision on the proposal by the end of December.

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