Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Cornwall's 'Silicon Vineyards' aim to triple solar capacity in UK

Cornwall's reputation for sun, sand and surf could soon be challenged by silicon if a proposed £40m network of solar farms gets the go ahead.

Next week, public consultation will begin for a 15-acre "energy farm" on a green-field site at St Kew, three miles east of Wadebridge, the market town which acts as the gateway to north Cornwall's popular tourist heartlands. A local farmer has raised £4.5m of private investment to construct the first of what could be 10 similar sites across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which, if all built, would triple the UK's current solar generating capacity.

But such investment doesn't automatically guarantee a hi-tech approach: the solar panels will be tilted towards the sun each day by hand and a roaming gaggle of geese will be used to keep the surrounding grass at a manageable length.

A consortium of local companies calling itself "Silicon Vineyards" says the proposed 2MW facility at Benbole Farm – which would be the first utility-scale solar farm in the UK - would generate enough electricity to power 600 homes. It will also grow biomass crops and house an anaerobic digester as an alternative source of power generation. The consortium, which includes the commercial arm of the University of Exeter and a Penzance-based renewables specialist called Renewable Energy Cooperative (R-ECO), says construction could begin in October if planning is approved. The solar farm could start generating electricity commercially by April 2011.
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