FAQs

Need
Components
Employment
Land use
Developers/business case

Need

Sunnica is bringing forward a project of this size to meet the urgent national need for new, renewable sources of electricity. Solar farms of this scale can be built and begin operation quickly. This means that they have an important role to play in the decarbonisation of the UK national electricity grid.

In addition to this, projects of this scale are able to bring additional carbon saving and economic benefits when compared to a number of smaller projects equalling the same total generating capacity. This is because solar projects face fixed costs for their development and their development timescales are generally fixed.

We have provided a Statement of Need [APP-260] as part of our DCO application that sets out the needs case for projects of this kind.

Different forms of renewable energy generation each have a role to play in meeting the UK’s obligation to achieve net zero by 2050. We do not believe that any one technology alone can alone provide the renewable energy that the country requires. Rather there is a need for a mix of renewable energy sources including both solar and wind energy.

This is particularly the case in the UK, as solar and wind are complementary technologies. Seasonal variations in the generating potential of each help to balance out supply across the year.

We have provided further information on this in the Statement of Need [APP-260] that forms part of our submitted DCO application.

Large scale solar, like large scale wind, has benefits to consumers because it connects directly to the National Electricity Transmission System. This means that power generated by large scale solar sites will flow instantaneously and efficiently to wherever, nationally, it is needed.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is a lack of brownfield land that is suitable for large scale solar development in the UK. Brownfield land is available for smaller scale solar development but this is not considered an alternative to the delivery of large scale solar – indeed both are required in order to meet the UK’s obligation to achieve net zero by 2050.

The brownfield land available is often not located close to a point of connection to the National Electricity Transmission System; nor in a place that has sufficient levels of irradiation.

The maximum area of the solar PV infrastructure (including solar PV modules, their mounting structures, solar PV control room/container, inverters, transformers and switchgears) is as follows for each site:

  • Sunnica East Site A – approximately 115 ha (285 acres)
  • Sunnica East Site B – approximately 227 ha (561 acres)
  • Sunnica West Site A – approximately 256 ha (633 acres)
  • Sunnica West Site B – approximately 23 ha (57 acres)

This gives a total of approximately 1,536 acres.

In terms of the areas proposed for the battery energy storage system (BESS) compounds (included within the areas above), the maximum area is as follows for each site where BESS is proposed:

  • Sunnica East Site A – approximately 7 ha (17 acres)
  • Sunnica East Site B – approximately 17 ha (40 acres)
  • Sunnica West Site A – approximately 9 ha (21 acres)

This gives a total of approximately 78 acres for the BESS compounds.

These totals do not include the cable route within our Order limits (boundary) nor the proposed extension to the National Grid Substation at Burwell.

In addition to this, there are also areas within the proposed Sunnica Energy Farm boundaries that are ‘non-developable’, these are areas for offsets and mitigation areas:

  • Sunnica East Site A – approximately 108 ha (267 acres)
  • Sunnica East Site B – approximately 92 ha (227 acres)
  • Sunnica West Site A – approximately 117 ha (289acres)
  • Sunnica West Site B – approximately 43 ha (106 acres)

All scales of solar projects (including the locating of PV modules on existing buildings) from the very small to the very large have an important role to play in the UK achieving its net zero ambitions. However, this is in addition to, and not a substitute for, large scale solar development. Further, not all roofs are suitable for solar development.

Such projects therefore represent an important opportunity to contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s means of energy generation.

This is not true. We have assessed the greenhouse gas impact across the whole lifecycle of the Scheme. This has been carried out in accordance with the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) guidance for assessing GHG emissions as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment.

During construction and decommissioning, approximately 467,200 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) will be emitted. However, during operations, the Scheme has been assessed to have a major beneficial effect on the climate. It is estimated that an additional 957,334 tCO2e would be emitted to generate the equivalent amount of electricity from the projected grid energy mix over the Scheme’s operational lifetime. Therefore, the emissions from the Scheme during construction and decommissioning are far outweighed by the benefits during operation.

The comparison of the above two figures represents a conservative approach to the assessment as outlined below:

  1. The Scheme GHG intensity used in these calculations is conservative as it assumes the embodied carbon in replacement materials and the emissions associated with worker transportation would be the same as they are today over the project lifetime. However, these emissions will likely reduce over the lifetime of the Scheme as the national grid, production industries and modes of transport are expected to decarbonise over time in line with Government carbon reduction targets.
  2. The additional 957,334 tCO2e figure is calculated using the projected grid average, which relies on the assumption that low carbon energy generation projects such as the Scheme will be implemented, thereby reducing the grid average GHG intensity. Therefore, without projects such as the Scheme, the grid average GHG intensity would not decrease as quickly, so the GHGs emitted to generate the equivalent amount of electricity from the grid would in fact be higher.

Further information on the GHG assessment can be found in Chapter 6 (Climate Change) of the Environmental Statement [APP-038].

Components

At this stage of the scheme’s development a final decision on the specification and type of PV panel is not known. This decision will be taken, should development consent be granted, closer to the date of commencement of development. The DCO application allows for flexibility in this regard so that Sunnica can select the most appropriate PV panel at the time.

The components used in the Scheme will be subject to a procurement process that takes care to ensure that the equipment is sourced in a way that avoids processes that may be environmentally damaging or exploitative.

Our proposals will require the use of concrete foundations in some areas. For example, it is our preference to mount the solar PV by driving the supporting steel poles into the ground although in some cases concrete slab foundations will need to be used.

Elements that will require the use of concrete foundations include the solar stations, water tanks, substations and the battery energy storage system (BESS) in some locations.

The total area that will require a concrete base will be dependent upon the final project design but regardless, it will be a small portion of the entire Scheme.

Sunnica has undertaken a detailed and exhaustive approach toward site selection to ensure that it has robustly considered alternatives to the proposed scheme. Further information on the alternatives process is available in Chapter 4 [APP-036] and Appendix 4A of the Environmental Statement [APP-054].

Our proposals include an extension of the National Grid substation at Burwell to accommodate the energy generated by Sunnica Energy Farm. The extension would be in the context of the existing infrastructure present on the site.

All scales of solar projects (including the locating of PV modules on existing buildings) from the very small to the very large have an important role to play in the UK achieving its net zero ambitions. However, this is in addition to, and not a substitute for, large scale solar development. Further, not all roofs are suitable for solar development.

Such projects therefore represent an important opportunity to contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s means of energy generation.

Yes, there is approximately 30 miles of fencing proposed for the operational sites. This fencing is critical to ensure the security of the scheme. The fencing will consist of a ‘deer fence’, up to 2.5m in height. Should consent be granted, the design of the fencing will require approval from the relevant local planning authorities. An illustration of typical deer fencing is provided in Plate 3-13 of Chapter 3 of the Environmental Statement [APP-035], as demonstrate in the figure the fencing is not solid and is relatively unobtrusive. Such fencing is commonplace in rural environments, unobtrusive and requires minimal materials to establish and maintain.

The fencing will be installed behind the mitigation planting proposed for the Scheme and therefore, will be screened from view. We are following established best practice to provide embedded mitigation within the Scheme’s design, which includes new planting to soften the visual appearance of the Scheme. In total, this will be more than 7.4km across the entire Scheme. Additionally, fencing will be set back from public rights of way.

Employment

We think so. It is estimated that the construction phase will generate 1,685 net additional jobs per annum, of which 1,483 will be located within 45 minutes travel time. During operation, it is estimated the Scheme will generate 29 net additional jobs, 27 of which will be within 45 minutes travel time.

If the Scheme is approved and built, we will implement a Skills, Supply Chain and Employment Plan to maximise local businesses accessing employment and supply chain opportunities. We have published an Outline Skills, Supply Chain and Employment Plan [APP-268] as part of our Development Consent Order (DCO) application. The final Plan that we adopt will be based on this.

Land use

The government’s objectives for the energy system are to ensure our supply of energy always remains secure, reliable, affordable, and consistent with meeting the UK’s target to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050. This will require a step change in the decarbonisation of our energy system, and the sources of energy will also need to change.

In order to meet net zero, the UK needs to dramatically increase the volume of energy supplied from low carbon sources, including from solar – which is one of the most established renewable electricity technologies in the UK and the cheapest form of electricity generation worldwide. The government has committed to sustained growth in solar capacity to ensure that the UK is on a pathway to meet net zero emissions. As such solar is a key part of the government’s strategy for low-cost decarbonisation of the energy sector.

Solar is a highly flexible technology and as such can be deployed on a wide variety of land types however it should be noted that locating solar farms at places with grid connection capacity enables the use of existing grid infrastructure to be maximised, and minimises disruption to local community infrastructure or biodiversity.

There is an expectation that at the scale required to meet net zero, applications for solar developments will require use of agricultural land.  Applicants will be expected to minimise the use of best and most versatile agricultural land unless there is justification to do so. Importantly though, land type is not expected to be a predominating factor in determining the suitability of a site’s location. The suitability of a site is a matter which the Secretary of State will consider when determining the DCO application.

Sunnica has undertaken a detailed site selection process and has minimised the use of best and most versatile agricultural land. Further information on the alternatives process is available in Chapter 4 [APP-036] and Appendix 4A of the Environmental Statement [APP-054].

We have sought, as much as possible, to avoid the use of land categorised as ‘Best and Most Versatile’ in the Scheme design. We have assessed the agricultural land quality and versatility following Natural England Guidance. As a result, the majority of the land (96.2%) within the Order limits (our boundary) is classed as not being ‘Best and Most Versatile’ and is lower grade agricultural land. Further details on this can be found in Appendix 12B of the Environmental Statement [APP-115].

In addition, the Scheme does not involve the permanent loss of farmland. The land used for solar energy generation can be restored to farmland at the end of the Scheme’s lifetime. We are proposing that the Scheme operates for a limited time period of 40 years. Following this it will be decommissioned as a requirement of its Development Consent Order.

If granted, the DCO will require that the Scheme is decommissioned after 40 years of operation. This will be enforced through the Planning Act 2008, against the person with the benefit of the Order at that time.

The DCO will also require that the Scheme is decommissioned in accordance with a Decommissioning Environmental Management Plan. This will set out mitigation measures to reduce the impact of the decommissioning process.

The land involved in the Scheme will then be returned to its original agricultural use.

Further information can be found in the Draft Development Consent Order [APP-019] and Framework Decommissioning Environmental Management Plan, Appendix 16E of the Environmental Statement [APP-125].

This is not true. The long-term planning status of the land will not change as a result of the Scheme. Therefore, it would not be considered brownfield land due to the requirement to decommission the site. This requirement would be secured by our DCO should we receive development consent.

We are however proposing that the ecologically enhanced areas are left in situ when the Scheme reaches the end of its operating life. We recognise that once land is returned to the landowner, we will no longer have control over its management.

Any proposed development coming forward on the land after the Scheme is decommissioned would be subject to its own planning consent process.

The Scheme has been designed to minimise the effect that it will have on the countryside and the local community.

As part of our application, we have assessed the Scheme’s impact on landscape and visual receptors and have sought to reduce the potential effects of the Scheme through embedded mitigation. These measures include 208ha of grassland planting, 26ha of woodland planting and new hedgerow planting/infilling that is over 7km in length.

Public rights of way within, and close to, the Scheme will remain throughout the Scheme’s operating life. In addition to this, we are also proposing three new permissive routes that would increase access during the Scheme’s operating life.

We have continued to develop the design for the Sunnica Energy Farm, following the statutory consultation, taking into account potential impacts on the landscape and visual amenity. We are proposing suitable mitigation as a result, including a large amount of planting to soften the visual appearance of the Scheme. This includes additional landscape buffers in relation to the BESS. This can be seen at W17, E18 and E33 in the Parameter Plans [APP-135 and APP-136].

We are proposing a number of embedded design measures to minimise fire risk and comply with all relevant legislation. We have also produced an Outline Battery Fire Safety Management Plan as part of our DCO application [APP-267] that sets out our proposed measures to deal with any fire, in the unlikely event that one occurs. This has been developed in consultation with the local fire authorities.

We take the fire risk posed by the BESS element of the Scheme very seriously. As part of our application, we have prepared an Outline Battery Fire Safety Management Plan [APP-267] and an Unplanned Atmospheric Emissions from BESS Report, Appendix 16D of the Environmental Statement [APP-124].

The Outline Battery Fire Safety Management Plan has been produced in consultation with the local fire services, by industry experts and incorporates current industry best practice. If consent is granted, a Battery Safety Management Plan will be required which is in accordance with the outline plan submitted with the application.

The Unplanned Atmospheric Emissions Report produced for the Scheme concludes that in the unlikely event of a fire in a single cell or module, it is very unlikely the fire would spread to the rest of the BESS. In the unlikely event that a large-scale fire break out within one of the BESS containers, the hydrogen fluoride concentration at the closest houses would be below the relevant legal levels.

Figures 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Landscape and Ecology Management Plan, Appendix 10I of the Environmental Statement [APP-108] give an overview of the minimum distances from the closest parts of the Sunnica Energy Farm solar and battery storage sites to neighbouring properties.

Distances given in this document include:

Sunnica East Site A

  • Closest properties in Isleham – 0.46km
  • Closest properties in West Row – 0.77km
  • Closest properties in Freckenham – 1.2km

Sunnica East Site B

  • Closest properties in Worlington – 0.27km

Sunnica West Site A

  • Closest properties in Snailwell – 0.4km

Sunnica West Site B

  • Closest properties in Snailwell – 0.5km

Developers/business case

The battery storage element of the Scheme will provide a complementary suite of services to the PV module elements. Solar PV is intermittent by nature and therefore does not generate at constant rates throughout the day nor necessarily during times of peak demand.

The BESS will therefore perform a crucial grid balancing role. Battery storage means that electricity can be stored when more is being produced than is needed at a given time and released again when it is needed.

Additional details of the different services that energy storage facilities can provide are given in Table 10-1 of the Statement of Need [APP-260] submitted as part of our DCO application.

It is true that the Sunnica Energy Farm would be one of the largest solar farms in the UK. However, more projects of a similar scale have been proposed recently and we believe that many more will need to come forward if the UK is to achieve its commitment to net zero by 2050.

We are proposing to use tried and tested technologies. It is being brought forward by two established solar developers, Tribus Energy and PS Renewables. Both are highly experienced in delivering high quality solar and energy storage developments.