A huge new solar power development is being planned for the coastline in Kent that would be the biggest in the UK to date and provide a key boost to Britain's solar industry, which has struggled since the government called time early on its subsidy programme 18 months ago.
Cleve Hill would have 500pc of the capacity of the current largest solar development, which is government-owned and located in Wiltshire. The new development would produce sufficient energy to power c. 110,000 households, and it is planned to come online in 2020.
The new build will be developed by Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy in partnership and see solar panels placed in an area of farmland equivalent in size to over 400 football pitches. Crucially, it will be entirely subsidy-free in its operation, as the firms behind it believe that the falling costs of solar technology, along with the economies of scale afforded by the huge size, will allow it operate commercially.
Since the government withdrew its subsidy scheme in 2016, just one large commercial solar development has been built, in Bedfordshire. However, this was an extension to a current solar farm which was developed with subsidies.
The consultation period has already started, and letters have gone out to local people in advance of community meetings in December. The project's developers have already been clear that they recognise the site's importance for maintaining local flora and fauna.
The area is known for its mudflats and salt marshes, which are vital for migrating birds. The RSPB refused to comment at this early stage, saying that they were currently reviewing the development plans. Conservation groups said that the news showed how the government's ending of subsidies had affected community solar schemes.