One year after it was purchased, one of the largest local authority owned solar farms in the UK is performing to expectations.
Forest Heath District Council invested nearly £14.5 million to acquire the 12.4MW solar farm at Toggam Farm, Lakenheath.
The purchase supports the delivery of the Council’s Community Energy Plan and generates an annual income which will be used to help fund essential council services.
It was predicted that in its first year the solar farm would create at least £300,000 of additional net income by selling the electricity generated to the National Grid (this is after taking into account the capital outlay being recouped over 25 years and is predicted to rise to £700,000 a year by year 10 of the 25 year project).
The figures were based on assumptions as to the performance of the solar farm, and weather information, although the solar farm does still generate electricity even on cloudy days.
At the end of the first year, the solar farm has generated 11,682MWh of electricity, bringing in £1.2m of income, £308K net income (taking into account the capital outlay) to contribute towards funding local services.
The electricity is enough to power an electric vehicle for 1,943 laps around the planet including a few recharging stops at our charge points in Newmarket.
Alternatively, with the football season now underway, it could power more than two seasons of Premier League football.
Councillor Stephen Edwards, Forest Heath’s Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “One year on, this remains one of the biggest local authority owned solar farms in the UK, producing enough electricity to offset the carbon footprint of 1,700 cars and enough electricity to power 3,500 homes.
“A key reason for this purchase is to generate annual income to protect the local council services that we supply day to day to our residents and businesses.
“Our main Government grant will be scrapped by 2020 and Council Tax doesn’t cover anywhere near as much as people think which is why we have looked, and must continue to look for innovative ways to pay for council services. I am really pleased with how well it has performed so far. We’ve now got sheep grazing there which helps keep the area well maintained, and I look forward to the sun shining even more.”
The purchase was made using capital funds in line with the council’s capital programme. Under local Government finance rules, councils are not allowed to use capital to plug annual funding gaps as eventually the money will run dry. Instead they can use the money to create a revenue stream which is invested straight back into local service delivery.
The solar farm, which stands on 17.5 hectares, features 47,748 panels each weighing approximately 20kg and measuring 1.6m by 1m.
The authority has celebrated the success of the solar farm with a fun parody of The Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann sung by Newmarket Community Choir.
This will be used with groups and school children who want to find out more about the solar farm and why the council is involved.
You can see it on the Forest Heath District Council Facebook page, YouTube channel and on Twitter at @ForestHeath #BaaBaaAmp