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Politics Rhondda Cynon Taf South Wales

A council-owned solar farm could make ‘vastly significant contribution’ towards net zero

PLANS for a council owned solar farm in Rhondda Cynon Taf which could offset more than 1,500 tonnes of carbon a year are moving forward.

A report for the council’s climate change cabinet sub committee on Thursday, March 23 gives an update on the proposed solar farm to be located on council owned land located at Coed Ely, on an 84-acre ‘terraced’ former colliery site, near Tonyrefail.

The project is described as a 6MW (MegaWatt) solar farm, made up of a 5MW, at 33 KiloVolts, connected to the National Grid and also 1MW, at 11 Kilovolts, to be connected to a “public sector” partner through a private wire.

The project will “offset” around 55,000 tonnes of carbon over the expected  minimum life-cycle of the project of 35 years, the report said.

It also said that the project has the potential to generate a long-term income for the council, over and above the term cost of financing and/or operating the scheme and can provide a substantial financial benefit once the said term has passed.

The report said that the council has plans to build and finance a credible solar farm, that will make a “vastly significant contribution” to the council’s ability to offset its carbon footprint, and towards achieving its net zero carbon target.

The initial budget estimate for the full development and construction costs for the entire project have been reassessed as a result of additional information and the estimated budget now stands at around £8.5million which includes all  development costs and allowance for providing the private wire installation.

Development costs for the project for the current financial year 2022/23 are estimated to be within the region of £145,000 and these costs have been met from within existing budgets, the report said.

There will be a need to allow for further development costs in 2023/2024 which are estimated to be in the region of £400,000, also met from existing budgets.

Consent was granted by cabinet, following the presentation of the previous reports in March and October 2022, to proceed with the proposals and permission has been given to move plans forward.

In September 2022 the council appointed a project manager to take the project through to the planning, detailed design and construction stages as well as updating the project time-line and a review of the budget.

A specialist company were commissioned to produce an outline design of the solar farm  to assess the amount of the available land that would be needed to achieve the targets whilst considering the geography of the proposed site.

The company were then asked to provide the potential costs of their proposals and a prediction of energy “yield”which would feed into future spending and income predictions.

The report said that officers were then able to revise both the initial budget needed and programme/time-line for the project proposals.

Discussions have also taken place with specialist consultants to assess the requirements for taking the project to the next stage of development, and through the planning process.

After a brief consultation period, a tender process was carried out and a consultant was chosen to help take the project forward through the planning process.

The project team is also currently collecting information with a view to submitting a pre-planning application consultation in the early summer of 2023.

After this, a planning application would be submitted and if successful it is expected that construction will be able to start during 2024.

Officers and council lawyers are working on the conclusion to the terms for the private wire connection arrangement and power purchase agreement with a potential “public sector” partner.

The report said that the council has signed a non-disclosure agreement  about this “sensitive matter” and so no further details regarding this aspect of the project can be made public but it is thought that the related “private wire” element of the project will need to be completed during the summer of 2024, to coincide with completion of the A4119 road scheme.

Negotiations are ongoing with the local farmer, who is a tenant and has access to and over the land with grazing rights, regarding the future management of the land on which the solar farm is to be built.

The report said that it is hoped that the tenant will be able to make a positive contribution to the future running of the council’s proposed asset.

The report said that both the development costs and the headline estimated figures for the capital cost of the project have now been updated to take account of the latest project information and inflation since the previous initial budget proposals were put together
But it said that the current economic situation with the unstable economy, high inflation and volatile energy costs means that it is likely that regular updates and re-assessments will be needed.

It said that updated will be provided to councillors during the progress of the project and “further approval will be sought at each notable stage of development.”

The report said all costs will be subject to periodic review, and then reported on at each notable stage of development and that it is expected that the project will be mainly funded by use of prudential borrowing, with the annual income from the energy generation being sufficient to cover the annual borrowing repayments and the ongoing annual costs and maintenance.

The report added that despite the recent rises in the cost of borrowing officers are continuing to look at the availability of grant funding to help with the cost of developing the solar farm and an application has recently been submitted for £75,000 worth of grant development funding towards the expenditure in the financial year 2022/23 which would cover more than 50% of the development costs for this financial year.

The report said that it is hoped that grant funding and increased wholesale market prices in energy costs while lead to a more favourable payback period but more information will be given when the final budget and income review is assessed before submitting the business and funding case report.