Published on

1 March 2024

Latest business case for Barkham Solar Farm is looking bright

The new Solar Farm is set to generate millions of pounds of income as well as contributing to a greener borough

Artists impression of solar panels installed at the proposed Barkham Solar Farm site

Wokingham Borough Council’s first solar farm is looking like a great investment for the local area, with latest figures showing the farm could generate more than £68 million in profit over its 25-year life span after the cost of delivering and running it are taken into account.

This means that, in addition to generating enough green renewable energy to power thousands of homes, Barkham Solar Farm will also generate an income of circa £2.74 million a year, which can be used to help fund essential services and help tackle the ongoing financial pressures the council faces.

The figure represents a significant increase from the 2021 business case when the project was expected to deliver a profit of around £500k a year. This increase reflects the current and predicted future unit prices of energy, the lower price of purchasing the solar panels, and recent improvements to solar technology which means fewer panels now need to be installed to generate the same amount of power.

An excellent investment

“The solar farms have always been a big part of our plans to tackle the climate emergency by generating clean green renewable energy and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.” Said Cllr Stephen Conway, leader of the council. “We’d always expected income from the project to pay for the cost of delivering it and operating it over the years, along with a modest income return on our investment. However, the figures in the latest business case are fantastic and show just how important projects like this are.

“We continue to struggle financially with years of government underfunding and growing demand for our services. Being able to secure long term independent income streams like this is critical in making sure we can continue to help those most in need of our support. We’ve taken a cautious approach to forecasting how energy prices might go in the future but, even with this, the latest figures show that the solar farm is an excellent investment for our community.”  

Coordinating projects

The updated business case was produced following the signing of an agreement in January with Scottish and Southern Electric Networks (SSEN) to connect the solar farm to the grid in summer 2026, much earlier than previously indicated.

During the coming months the council will continue to work closely with SSEN as part of the project design process, including discussions around connecting the site to the grid which will require cabling from the site to the electricity substation on Barkham Road by summer 2026 when the solar farm will be operational.

Cllr Conway continued: “During the next few years, and subject to planning approvals, there could be several major projects in the area around Barkham Ride. In addition to the solar farm this includes planting for the Covid memorial wood, a large extension to Rooks Nest SANG, and proposals for two new SEND schools.

“As these projects are within our control we will do our best to minimise any disruption to the surrounding areas. We will be establishing a single project team to deliver them and will be working closely with local parish councils and stakeholders, to set up a community liaison group to bring people together. “

Private housing developers with schemes nearby will also be encouraged to get involved and ensure their plans for construction consider other works taking place in the local area.

Contributing to a greener borough

The solar farm business case was considered at the Climate Emergency Overview and Scrutiny meeting last night (29 February). Papers included a copy of the update report which will be taken to the Council’s Executive meeting on Thursday 14 March.  

In addition to discussing the positive business case, members also received an update on how the project will contribute towards the council’s climate emergency action plan (CEAP) objectives, with the solar farm expected to generate a carbon saving of more than 6,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. That’s the equivalent of 29 million KWh of energy used, or the average annual energy consumption of over 7,000 local homes each year.

Thousands of new trees will be planted to create a woodland at the south of the site, adjacent to where the new Covid Memorial Wood will be planted later this year.  A detailed landscaping plan for the solar farm will see big improvements in local biodiversity with a net gain well in excess of the 10 per cent biodiversity net gain usually expected from major planning applications and which reflects council ambitions to make Wokingham a greener borough.  

The solar farm project also includes the creation a new greenway route, aimed at better linking Arborfield and Finchampstead to the south of the site, and Barkham village to the north. This will offer an attractive traffic free route and help encourage residents to walk or cycle more when moving around the borough. 

Next steps

Site surveys are ongoing with archaeological surveys due to be carried out across the wider site in the coming months. These surveys will require a large number of trenches to be dug across the site which will be backfilled after the surveys are completed.

Alongside this the council will be working to award the construction contract for the solar farm by the end of the year with installation of the solar panels expected to start in spring or summer 2025 and take two to three months.

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