Time is ticking for Soham Solar Farm - build or pay back £230,000


- Credit: Archant

The clock is ticking to get a massive solar farm built in Cambridgeshire before a deadline runs out on European grant funding.

Soham Solar park needs to be up and running to prove it is energy efficient before August 21 next year otherwise Cambridgeshire County Council must pay back thousands of pounds that it has already been given.

The plan is to create a solar farm on 68 acres of land at Angle Common to produce 10 megawatts of clean energy for around 3,000 homes and save 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

A contract was signed in August 2012 to secure a £700,000 green energy grant with a condition that the investment must be increased to 15 times what was given.

Already £230,000 of the grant money has been spent but with little more than a year to go on the August 2015 deadline, the solar farm is way from being finished - a planning application has not yet been submitted - and councillors are getting worried that the project is becoming a “risk”.

A report, due to be discussed at Cambridgeshire County Economy and Environment Committee, says there is a risk that the grant money can be “clawed back” on a “proportional basis”.

The report says: “At the time of signing the contract the risk was considered to be low and acceptable as there were a range of potential projects for delivery and that there was a strong likelihood that we could deliver the required objectives.”

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However the report adds: “As a result of recent structural and financial changes, there is an increased risk that the investments into the energy projects may not be delivered in time for the MLEI time scales and some claw-back of the grant could happen.”

Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridgeshire City Council, South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire District Council signed the contract with the Mobilising Local Energy Investment Project (MLEI) as part of a bid to invest £15million to kick start a green energy initiative including the new solar farm in Soham.

Other plans include creating energy efficient public buildings such as schools, village halls, sports centres and council owned offices.

In a meeting next week (Tuesday July 8) councillors will be recommended to continue with the project and review the risk by December 2014.

By then there should be a clearer idea of the timescales to connect Soham Solar farm to UK Power Networks’ local network, the funding opportunities for academy schools to go green and the scope to set up a Cambridgeshire energy company.

Alternative ideas are to stop the project now and pay back £230,000 already spent.