Bluefield Renewable Developments Ltd, a UK based green energy business, is seeking to engage with Durham communities on plans for a solar farm on a former coal mining site near Bishop Auckland.
The proposals would generate significant renewable energy, reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and help Durham County Council to achieve its ambitious climate change targets.
The Bluefield Group already owns and operates over 117 similar solar farms around the UK and mainland Europe, generating 766 Megawatts (MW) of electricity – enough to power 290,000 homes, an equivalent of 85% of all the houses in County Durham.
The company is particularly keen to continue this locality’s historic link to energy production, from coal powered to solar powered, whilst sensitively preserving and enhancing the area’s cultural significance.
The proposed site lies to the north of Cockfield and south east of the village of High Lands. Bluefield hope to create a 49.9MW solar farm on 130 acres of poor grade agricultural land, currently used for sheep grazing. The land will still be accessible for grazing sheep throughout the lifetime of the project and – as it is not used for arable farming – there will be no impact on local crop or food provision.
A carefully considered location, the visual impact of the project would be minimal, as existing, well-established trees and hedges already screen the site from the small number of properties located nearby. Additional planting would also hide the solar farm from higher vantage points, further away.
Before submitting a formal planning application, Bluefield will undertake thorough consultation with local people, community leaders, councillors and businesses, to fully explain its proposals and to listen to feedback.
Should the project go ahead, it would be able to generate enough electricity to power nearly 13,000 households annually. This would represent a projected carbon emission reduction of approximately 8,700 tonnes, the equivalent of taking around 5,500 cars off the road each year.
“We are aware of the huge transformation which County Durham has undergone over the past half century or so – and of the changes it needs to make to achieve its climate ambitions. These proposals will help to maintain the site’s historic link to energy production, whilst enabling the generation of clean energy, to support Durham’s environmental goals.” said Jonathan Selwyn, Managing Director with Bluefield Renewable Developments Ltd.
“We believe our proposal supports the UK’s drive towards sustainable energy from renewable sources, using a site that – until around 30 years ago – produced non-renewable carbon-based fuel for the region. Its setting means that, with limited additional screening through planting, the solar farm would be virtually unseen.
“A recent survey by The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on attitudes towards renewables and energy generation found that over 80% of the public would be happy to have a ground-mount solar in their local area (*Link to the findings included at the end of this article). This shows that people can see the benefits of solar power generation.
“However, we fully understand that people will want to know more about what is proposed and to have the opportunity to ask questions and provide their valuable feedback. That is why we want to engage with them fully on our plans.”
Communication with local councillors is already underway and consultation events, where people can find out more about and comment on the proposal, are being planned for the autumn.
Should the project receive planning approval, Durham County Council would benefit from around £7 million in business rates over the typical 40 year period for which permission is usually granted for solar farms.
A clause relating to the sale of the former council land would mean that the local authority would financially benefit further, receiving an uplift in value on the land. In addition, a £300,000 fund would be established for the benefit of the local community.
Bluefield Development is sympathetic to the local industrial heritage of the site – including the nearby disused former branch line of the Stockton and Darlington railway and the designated scheduled monument of Cockfield Fell. It will seek to work with local interest groups to ensure these are protected and ideally enhanced.
Bluefield also has two additional 49.9MW projects currently in for planning consideration with neighbouring Northumberland County Council.
Picture caption: Sheep grazing at a Bluefield Solar Farm in the south of England