Beset by delays and costing £500,000 more because of Brexit, solar farm at Soham begins to produce first electricity - and first profit

County council leader Steve Count shares his delight with the opening of the solar farm at Soham. Fi

County council leader Steve Count shares his delight with the opening of the solar farm at Soham. Five years ago, however, he blocked the more intrusive development of wind turbines on the county council owned farms estate. - Credit: Archant

A £10 million solar farm on a county council owned 60 acre site in Soham has begun to produce its first electricity and enough to power around 3,500 homes.

The ambitious project has been beset by delays and subsidy withdrawal and according to industry reports struggled to gain access to the National Grid.

The project also cost an extra £500,000 because of currency fluctuations caused by Brexit.

When the solar panels were ordered in 2015 “the impact of Brexit could not have been foreseen,” said a report earlier this year to county councillors.

Back in 2015 it was also assumed a referendum would not take place until 2017 and it was therefore assumed that the scheme would have been up and running before the referendum took place.

But all that was forgotten before Christmas as the solar park began operating on a commercial basis that is expected to make profits of £350,000 a year rising to more than £1 million.

The move is part of the County Council’s drive to find new ways of producing income and also helps provide renewable energy at a time when the county has the fastest population growth in the country.

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The site is built, with co-operation from the tenant farmer, on Grade 3 agricultural land, putting it at the lower end of land quality in Cambridgeshire.

It is intended to keep the panels in place for a period of 25 years – but that period could be extended.

Council leader Steve Count said: “When I talk to our communities they are rightly keen that we spend our money wisely and by finding a way to create income, these extra millions can be spent on much used frontline services.

“This project is a great investment as it means we are producing renewable energy and income while reducing the need to either make cuts or ask our residents to make up through taxes.”

* Five years ago Cllr Count, then Cabinet member for resources and performance, led opposition to build wind farms on council owned farms.

“We are putting people before profit,” he said.

“Anybody who lives or drives through Fenland knows just how much the local landscape has changed with regiments of wind farms cropping up across the area.

“Wind farms have their place in providing green energy but Fenland really has done its bit with villages and towns ringed by them.”