DESPITE strong opposition from residents, plans for a solar farm at Penpergwm have been given the go ahead by Welsh ministers reports Lauren Meredith.

Energy firm Renewable Connection first submitted a formal application for the 32megawatt solar farm located on the land at Great House, Penpergwm, in late 2021.

In September 2021, local campaign group HUSTLE (Help Us Stop The Looming Eyesore) launched in opposition of the solar farm scheme as they felt it would use up prime agricultural land.

The six local residents involved in the campaign worked to prevent the application being approved and stop what they felt will be an eyesore but to no avail as after hearings with the Planning Inspectorate in August 2022, the proposal was sent to Welsh Ministers who officially approved the application on Tuesday January 17.

Chairman of HUSTLE, Don Grant said: "Hustle and the local community are both furious and appalled by the welsh ministers decision to allow the proposed solar power station development at Penpergwm.

"Despite the very same minister setting a precedent by refusing an almost identical development last year in Pembrokeshire, they have concluded that Welsh regulations specifically designed to protect best and most versatile agricultural land can be overridden because this project will produce "significant" renewable energy to help Welsh government meet its highly ambitious target of 70% renewable energy in the next 10 years.

"The developers own figures confirm it will provide one fifth of one percent of Wales' electricity needs.

"Using these figures we would require a further 350 solar power stations to achieve the government's target.

"We refute the arguments used to support the developers and Welsh government's assessment of the adverse effects on local wildlife and more particularly the visual impact on this beautiful part of Monmouthshire.

"A question being asked locally is whether, regarding the huge sums of money needed to progress this application , the developers were assured of a positive outcome from the outset.

"Whatever our legal advisors are currently scrutinising the ministers report to advise what ongoing action may be possible."

Construction of the solar farm is anticipated to begin in 2024.

John Leith, Development Director at Renewable Connections said: “We are exceptionally pleased with this outcome, and very proud of our development team and the way they managed the iterative design process, ultimately, achieving the right decision.

“Penpergwm Solar Farm will significantly support the Welsh Government’s decarbonisation and climate resilience targets.

“This includes generating seventy percent of consumed electricity from renewable means by 2030.

“The solar farm will save an estimated 16,188 tonnes of CO2 each year, the equivalent of taking over 10,000 cars off Welsh roads, every year.”

MS Peter Fox spoke at an information open day held by HUSTLE in 2021.

He said: “Whilst I am not against solar farms in principle, I feel they should always be conducive with the local environment, relatively modest, discreetly placed and preferably sited on less productive land.

“Sadly, I feel this proposed site fails in all of these things. This would be a huge solar park of circa 200 acres situated in some of the most beautiful countryside in Monmouthshire.”

Although the group have been unsuccessful in their plans to prevent the solar farm going ahead, some of their environmental concerns have been addressed.

Biodiversity measures proposed for the site include the planting of new and reinforcement of existing hedgerows to promote species diversity and green corridors.

Bat and bird boxes will also be installed along with the creation of bee banks, badger gates, dormice nests, reptile hibernacula and invertebrate hotels.

Existing footpaths will be improved and new, safeguarded routes for 40 years will be created alongside the planning of a community orchard and extensive wildflower meadows.

John Leith added: “The solar farm will also operate in synergy with the existing agricultural business, enabling sheep grazing to continue within the proposed development area, whilst allowing the farming enterprise to remain financially viable.

And as well as a wide range of biodiversity improvements the project also has a community benefit fund that will support local good causes and initiatives.”