8. Additional Points and Frequently Asked Questions

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8. Additional Points and Frequently Asked Questions

Why don’t we use rooftops or brownfield sites for our developments?

Roofs of buildings are a natural place for solar panels to be sited and it is something that we gladly welcome more of. However, there are constraints that slow or prevent in some cases, the rolling out of rooftop solar at scale.

We categorise these constraints into three separate areas: physical; legal and; scalability. Because of the complexities of each of these points, it is not possible to give a succinct summary here, however, we are happy to talk any interested parties through these points.

In addition to these constraints, the cost of solar for rooftop is higher compared to that of ground-mounted and, the cost of the energy, therefore, sold on the market translates into higher bills for consumers, ultimately.

Brownfield sites are considered as alternatives but the locations where grid connections are available do not always coincide with such sites. Brownfield sites are also often being held for higher land value uses such as housing or commercial development and are therefore often not able to be made available to the energy industry.

We are facing a climate emergency and that means deploying renewable energy at scale is a necessity. This cannot simply be achieved by development on rooftops or brownfield sites alone. To make a meaningful impact, we believe solar farms must form the backbone of this approach.

What happens at the end of the scheme’s operational life?

It is a common misconception that once the life cycle of a solar farm comes to an end, that the land becomes ‘brownfield’. If planning permission is granted, it is temporary, usually between 25 and 40 years. Once this times has lapsed, the land reverts to its original use, in this case agricultural. The land will not be classed as previously developed. Leaving the land fallow for the lifetime of the solar farm also allows it time to rest and regenerate whilst encouraging nature to flourish.

Glint and glare?

Solar panels are designed to absorb light and not to reflect it. They pose little risk of glint or glare. A testament to this fact is the installation of solar panels at Gatwick Airport, alongside major roads and besides sports car raceways such as the ‘Top Gear’ test track.

Can solar farms cause flooding?

The vast majority of a solar farm is made up of rows of solar panels. We always retain grassland/meadow between and underneath rows of panels, meaning that the vast majority of the site is permeable, and water can drain away as it did previously. It should also be noted that all site access tracks are rolled stone (or similar) and are permeable as a result.

For heavier infrastructure, such as inverters, there is a need for impermeable foundations; however, recent project experience has shown that these only generally account for around 0.2% of the site and, nevertheless, we always instruct an engineer to design a bespoke solution to ensure that water drains away effectively. This all means that the existing greenfield runoff rate is more or less retained and there is no increased flood risk. Notwithstanding this, we always submit a Flood Risk Assessment with our planning applications.

Can solar farms be harmful to wildlife?

Solar farms actually help to reduce the intensity of the land’s use. Human activity within the site is negligible once operational. Our solar farms attract a variety of wildlife that thrives in diverse habitat. With each planning application we submit, a raft of ecological studies are conducted and reports produced to ensure that we not only protect existing habitats but also enhance the offering. Common species found within our solar farms include; nesting birds, reptiles, Great Crested Newts, butterflies and bees.

Biodiversity

It’s important to Low Carbon that the area is improved for nature and, as part of the planning process, we are required to demonstrate that there will be biodiversity gain on the site.

Across all its sites, Low Carbon works to protect and promote sustainable land use and halt biodiversity loss yet seeking to increase biodiversity through the provision of new habitats, such as hedgerow, trees and wildflower meadows to support pollinators such as bees.

It does this by understanding the characteristics of each site location and planting species that are native to that area.

Whilst our focus is on using existing woodland, trees and hedgerows to help to screen projects we also typically plant several hundred meters of new hedgerows and/or trees, leading to a net gain in both landscape and habitat.

All existing woodland, trees and hedgerows are retained only ever adding new planting for additional screening.

Planning conditions tend to require both a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) and a Landscape and Biodiversity Management Plan (LBMP) to be submitted for approval. The former deals with the construction process measures whilst the latter deals with post-construction measures and those throughout the operation of the project.

Sheep grazing

At our solar sites, Low Carbon is committed to working in partnership with local landowners to provide where possible a unique and innovative space for them to graze their sheep amongst the solar panels.

Grazing sheep at our sites has proved to be hugely popular amongst our landlords for several reasons, notably because the sites are secure which means the sheep are safe and the solar modules provide shelter from the winds and shade from the sun and rain.

Beehives

Low Carbon’s solar farms are also home to more than 2 million bees in managed hives, a key action to prevent the extinction of a vital species. The UK has seen a decline in the number of bees in the last few years, however, Low Carbon’s solar sites provide secure environments with readily available food sources. Each of our hives house approximately 60,000 bees and they are tended regularly by trained beekeepers. With the help of our beekeepers, each year we bottle and distribute more than 600 jars of Low Carbon honey to promote the climate change message. We also believe that keeping bees on our sites is setting a positive example within the renewable energy industry.

Public Rights of Way

As standard practice for Low Carbon, the Public Rights of Way (PRoW) which run through the site will be kept open throughout the construction and operation of the solar farm. In some cases, we may need to have a managed crossing on a footpath during construction for safety reasons, such as a temporarily controlled crossing and/ or a banksman.

To screen views on footpaths, we will incorporate buffers of meadow planting either side of the footpath and two-metre-thick hedgerow planting. The objective is to obtain a width of approximately 5-10 metres in total, unless there are specific space restrictions on a particular Public Right of Way, thereby maintaining a feeling of openness.

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