We all want power at the flick of a switch, and as we transition to a low carbon economy, phasing out fossil fuels, we need alternative clean energy sources. The UK is already well on the way with the government’s commitment to stop using coal by 2025 (gas and oil will have to follow) and the Yorkshire coast has the world’s largest offshore wind farm.
Currently, as a district, we spend about £250 million a year on power and most of this is generated outside the district. The exception being the Knabs Ridge windfarm, which generates 16 megawatts a year, with an annual carbon emission saving of 25,000 tons.
Additionally, there is a patchwork of roof top solar thermal, solar PV panels and some small hydro and wind schemes where homeowners and businesses have invested in small-scale generation. However, most of us are still dependent on gas and oil for our heating, cooking and electricity.
Every second our Sun produces a million times the power consumed by the USA in a year. The Harrogate District only has a fraction of the energy use of the USA, but we still need to plan for a low carbon grid. Solar energy will play an important part in our future energy mix.
One positive step towards this is the proposed solar photovoltaic (PV) farm at Cayton, just off the A61 between Harrogate and Ripon. Designed to generate 49.9 megawatts of electricity a year - enough low carbon power to supply 15,000 of the 70,000 homes in the District. 700,000 tonnes of carbon will be offset during the life of the project.
Elgin Energy’s solar farm proposal, which has been in development for three years, will come before the Harrogate Borough Council planning committee in September. If approved it could be operational by 2022.
Understandably, there has been some local opposition to this scale of solar farm in our beautiful Yorkshire countryside. Many, however, recognise the importance of clean renewable energy to tackle the current climate crisis. Elgin Energy have consulted extensively with local residents to try to ensure the least visual impact of the solar panels, adding additional hedgerows and trees to screen the solar fields.
Once installed the panels are quiet, clean and need minimal maintenance. The land will continue to be in agricultural use, with sheep grazing around the solar units. The landowner hopes to improve biodiversity with a species rich grass mix, beehives and insect hotels.
The Cayton solar farm would deliver electricity straight into the local electricity grid via the Wormal Green substation ready for local use. Currently, almost a third of electricity is lost over long distance transmission, so local energy generation makes economic and environmental sense.