Wrexham County Borough Council (WCBC) is a local authority in North Wales.
In 2011, WCBC made carbon reduction a priority. They formed a team and set up a recycling fund. At this time, the ‘feed in’ tariffs achievable from generating electricity for the grid made the installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels an economically viable investment The team started by installing PV on 2,700 social housing units – which was then the biggest PV project for social housing in Europe.
After the recognition and awards they got for this project, they started to look elsewhere. A WCBC-owned farmhouse and land were going to be sold off. They asked if the land could be retained for a solar farm. It would be the second Local Authority owned and operated solar farm in the UK and the first in Wales.
The original plans for a 5megawatt farm had to be scaled back because of issues with the land, but it remained economically viable. The team made an investment case to the Council.
Planning permission was difficult because some people objected to how it was going to look. There were also going to be construction impacts. But they built in a mechanism to give some financial benefits back to the local community.
Getting a connection back into the grid, locally operated by Scottish Power, was difficult too. Although a substation was relatively close, which meant the charge for connection was not too high, they needed access to privately-owned land.
Work had to begin in January, when weather was at its worst which made construction more difficult, but there was time pressure as there were plans to drop the level of the ‘feed in’ tariff. Since the drop, these types of projects are no longer seen as economically viable. Rather than connecting to the grid – which is expensive to set up – a project like this would need to find a local customer and supply them directly over a long contract time.