We’re facing a climate emergency so we must embrace renewable energy but need to ensure the means of that energy are in the right place and on a suitable scale.
The proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park would develop a vast industrialised Solar Power Station on Graveney Marshes in North Kent. The scale of the project is so big that it required a six month national planning examination and government-level decision.
On the 28th May 2020 the Secretary of State announced his decision to approve the Solar Power Station despite serious opposition from statutory bodies, wildlife and environmental organisations, and individuals – including letters to the Secretary of State and a petition with over 5,000 signatures.
Effect on wildlife and the natural environment
- The Greater Thames Estuary is a major feeding hub for waterfowl and thus one of the most important places for wildlife on the planet.
- The proposed Solar Power Station would destroy the habitat of over 390 species of wildlife, including protected species such as the marsh harrier, lapwing, skylark and Brent geese.
- Currently it is designated as valued landscape [ii] and is productive arable land, surrounded on three sides by designated nature conservation areas. [iii]
- Graveney Marshes is the missing piece of the jigsaw in protected sites along the North Kent coast and could be part of a Nature Recovery Network in Kent – to expand and connect our best wildlife sites. It is recognised by RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust as “providing important connectivity and habitat between the sites already protected.” [iv]
- It also houses the threatened European eel, water voles to common lizards, earwigs to bats, dormice and orchids.
- Salt marshes are the second most valuable ecosystem in the world so are vital natural climate solutions – they have huge benefits in terms of carbon capture (helping to reduce CO2), biodiversity and flood protection.
- The Environment Agency’s original plan (agreed with local stakeholders) was to allow the Graveney Marshes to revert to salt marsh within the next 20 years. The proposed Solar Power Station would mean that this would not be possible.
- Graveney Marshes is one of a small number of places that could be used to replace the internationally-important coastal wetlands (marshes) that are being lost due to the rise in sea-levels.
- The Environment Agency estimates that over 17,000 homes are at risk of flooding along the North Kent Coast, including in Faversham, Seasalter and Whitstable.
- The area has suffered from serious floods in the past – letting the sea back into the marshes could take the pressure off our coastal communities.
- Lost opportunity – the Environment Agency have a plan [i] to allow water back onto the area as part of managed realignment programme turning it into even more of a haven for wildlife
Effect on people’s wellbeing
- This design will turn a much loved tranquil area into a dense industrial landscape
- The development would be largest ever proposed industrial scale Solar Power Station in the UK. Seven times larger than the current largest UK Solar farm
- Bigger than the nearby town of Faversham, 2.5 miles long and the equivalent of 500 football pitches
- 880,000 solar panels up to 3.9m high, the height of a double-decker bus
- Laying the panels in an east-west alignment, rather than the usual solar farm design of a north-south alignment, allows them to laid closer together, increasing the negative impact on wildlife and, in effect, creating a vast solar panel lid of a kind usually found in desert landscapes
- The developer will drive 196,539 steel piles 2 metres deep into the ground to support the solar panels
Serious fire, health and safety risks
- The Battery Storage facility covering 25 acres (the equivalent of 20 football pitches). At 700MW it would be five times larger than the current largest battery storage system in the world.
- Lithium-Ion Batteries are far from safe – smaller facilities have caused serious, un-extinguishable fires and explosions throughout the world.
- Battery fires from Lithium-Ion batteries can be prolonged and difficult to control with an explosive energy equivalent to a small nuclear bomb and the potential to spread lethal gases.
- These facilities are currently banned in Arizona due to the hazards and risks posed by the emission of toxic hydrogen fluoride gas over a large area.
There are better ways to generate green energy
- Why build over arable land next to nature reserves?
- Better to develop large scale projects on:
- disused airfields
- empty industrial sites
- decommissioned coal power stations
- Solar energy works best at local scale, for example;
- on the roofs on commercial developments
- or on new build homes.
i. The Environment Agency’s stated long terms plans are to restore the area to coastal marshes to help prevent flooding of the local towns. Campaigners point out that the Cleve Hill Solar Park’s plans, which involve maintaining the sea wall, conflict with these plans. “They’re taking on the role of the Environment Agency. This is not something Cleve Hill should be doing. They’re not experts in flood defences, the Environment Agency is and we don’t really want to put our security into the hands of an organisation that is about destroying nature.” says Michael Wilcox, Chair of Graveney Rural Environment Action Team.
ii. The phrase ‘valued landscape’ was introduced in March 2012 with the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which refers to “protecting and enhancing valued landscapes”.
iii. It is surrounded by habitats designated for their wildlife value at a National and International level (shown in green on the map below). ‘The Swale’ has three levels of designation: Site of Special Scientific Interest, a national designation; Special Protection Area, a European designation; and Ramsar (a wetland of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention). The Swale Estuary is also a Marine Conservation Zone (a national designation)
iv. According to Kent Wildlife Trust, the proposed area of development is ‘functionally linked’ to these designated areas, and its loss may have an impact on the species in question.”