A planning application for a solar farm on a former deep and open cast coal mining site in County Durham has been submitted.
Bluefield Renewable Developments Ltd hopes to create a 49.9 Megawatt (MW) solar farm on 158 acres of pasture land, currently used for sheep grazing.
The proposed site – Bluestone Farm – lies to the north of Cockfield and south-east of the village of High Lands.
The plans would generate significant renewable energy, reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and help Durham County Council to achieve its ambitious climate change goals, having declared a climate emergency in 2019.
Bluefield has already undertaken extensive consultation, including
a public meeting and subsequent public exhibition with nearby residents and site visits with ward councillors – which have all been well received. Following the meetings, a number of potential projects have been identified for a £300,000 community fund allocated for the project, should it gain planning approval.
The solar farm would be able to generate enough electricity to power approximately 13,000 households annually. This would represent a projected carbon emission reduction of approximately 8,700 tonnes, the equivalent of taking around 5,500 cars off the road each year1.
Bluefield has chosen the location carefully to minimise the visual impact of the project. The majority would be well screened by existing belts of established trees and hedgerows and additional planting is proposed to provide further screening and to enhance the area’s biodiversity.
The land that the solar farm would occupy is classed as Grade 3B – which is not deemed as best and most versatile land. Should the plans be approved, the current farmer has agreed with Bluefield to resume sheep grazing around the solar arrays, once the plant is operational.
Alan Connolly, Development Director with Bluefield Renewable Developments Ltd, said: “We are excited to bring forward our proposals for Bluestone Farm. The provision of significant renewable energy would help meet the county’s environmental goals, whilst respecting the area’s rich and historic energy producing heritage. Importantly, the land is not currently used for growing crops for food production and the project would support the continued use of the land for sheep grazing.
“We have had a number of very constructive meetings both with members of the local community and Durham ward councillors and, to date, the feedback has been very positive.
“As the lowest cost, quickest to deploy and most popular of all energy sources, solar is already making an important contribution to addressing both the climate emergency and the cost-of-living crisis.”
This project would represent the company’s third significant investment in the North-East following successfully receiving unanimous planning approvals for two 49.9MW solar farms in Northumberland – located at Bedlington and Blyth – and each with a similar coal mining history
Should the proposal receive planning approval, it is estimated that the Durham County Council would benefit from around £7 million in business rates over the typical 40-year period, for which permission for solar farms is usually granted. A clause relating to the sale of the former council land would also mean that the council would financially benefit further, receiving an uplift in value on the land.
1 Estimates based on UK Governments 2022 GHG conversion factors and Ofgem’s Typical Domestic Consumption Values 2020