Ecotricity gets green light for UK’s first ‘sun park’

The company said it would begin work at the site within the next few weeks after East Lindsey Council approved plans for the company to install 1 MW of photovoltaic solar panels next to its Fen Farm wind turbines.

It added that it expects the new facility to be completed and fully operational by next March, making it the UK’s first large-scale, grid connected "sun park".

The panels will stand in 59 rows just two metres high on a 4.7 acre site, providing enough green electricity for about 280 average homes each year for the next 25 years.

Dale Vince OBE, founder of Ecotricity, said that he hoped to replicate the model at some of the company’s other wind farms.

"This is a really exciting new initiative for us and for the UK," he said. "It’s not just a new green power source we can harness on a large scale through our sun parks – but also the chance to combine that with wind energy. The two are complementary technologies – for example, in winter when there is less sun there is typically more wind, and vice versa."

The company said the project also represents the first facility to be funded using Ecotricity’s recently launched EcoBonds, which offer customers and investors the chance to purchase four-year bonds that help to fund green projects while offering a fixed annual rate of seven per cent, or 7.5 per cent for Ecotricity customers.

"The site will be part funded by the EcoBonds," said a spokesman for the company, although he declined to reveal how much the project costs and how much the company has raised ahead of the bond offer closing next month. "We’ve had a lot of interest from our customers and institutional investors and people can see the money is going straight to the frontline."

Ecotricity is the latest in a number of renewable energy companies to pursue plans for grid-connected solar farms, although concerns remain that investment in the sector could soon be curtailed after climate minister Greg Barker hinted the coalition could cut back incentivesoffered to large-scale solar projects through the feed-in tariff scheme.

Speaking in the Commons, Barker said the government had inherited a feed-in tariff system that had failed to anticipate the fact it would provide incentives for the deployment of photovoltaic field arrays. He added that the coalition would not act retrospectively to reduce incentives for field arrays that have already been approved, but insisted large deployments should "not be allowed to distort the market" for roof-mounted PV or other renewables.

The solar project is also the latest in a series of moves from Ecotricity designed to diversify its energy mix. Earlier this year the company launched a new green gas tariff and a spokesman confirmed that it was currently working on plans to build a commercial-scale anaerobic digestion plant capable of feeding biogas to the UK grid.