Jill Goulder visits an Ovesco project
An imaginative extra was added to the official opening on 4 September 2016 of a newly-built community-funded 5-megawatt solar farm at Merston east of Chichester. Directors of Meadow Blue Community Energy (a partnership including Ovesco in Lewes) offered to guide a group of attendees on a bike-trip to the farm from Chichester station. I and another Lewes resident Ann Link managed to dodge Rail Replacement Buses and join a dozen Chichester cyclists for the 4-mile ride to the farm. The proliferation of solar farms in that region is a revelation to those of us facing the opposition to them in the SDNP and Weald: with the Downs far to the north here the farms in the flatlands don’t ‘spoil the view’.
A local sheep-farmer is already interested in pasturing his flock among the Merston solar array: we learnt that a solar farm can take 80% as many sheep as an equivalent field without solar panels, and there is some initial evidence that lambs raised on a solar farm gain weight more rapidly, as a result of the shelter provided. Other possible shared uses include soft-fruit growing and bee-keeping; the latter would benefit hugely from the greater biodiversity of vegetation developing around the array compared with the monocrop vegetable fields common in the area.
The Merston project is part of an arrangement typical in the area, where a commercial solar-farm builder constructs two adjacent farms, one for their own commercial purposes and the other for community funding. It was one of the last community energy schemes to benefit from Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief, which has been a victim of Government cuts generally to financial support for renewable schemes.