Authority would pay for the farm and then earn income
A new solar farm could be built by Swansea Council on land it owns in the county.
The idea is in its early stages but was described by cabinet member for homes and energy Councillor Andrea Lewis as “an exciting opportunity” and one the administration couldn’t afford to ignore.
Asked to share some details about the proposal at a council scrutiny committee meeting, Cllr Lewis said it would be on brownfield rather than greenfield land and be capable of generating up to 10 megawatts of power.
But she didn’t identify any potential sites, and said she would be more comfortable discussing it further when a business case was brought forward, probably at the end of the year.
But she added: “We have floated the financial model with the Section 151 officer (head of finance Ben Smith) and he is very comfortable with the financial return.
“It will pay for itself in a short period of time.”
The proposal would mean the council paying for the solar farm and then earning income, which the cabinet member said could be “considerable”, when it’s operational.
It’s the latest in a string of commercial projects being explored by Labour chiefs to generate financial returns.
But Councillor Jeff Jones put it to Cllr Lewis that the council could not afford a solar farm, given its current level of borrowing.
Cllr Lewis said: “It is not a business opportunity that we can afford to ignore.”
A number of large privately-backed solar farms are being built, or applied for, in the north of Swansea – the latest a 20 megawatt proposal comprising 43,000 panels on 21 hectares of land near Craig Cefn Parc.
Councillor Wendy Fitzgerald told Cllr Lewis there would be concerns if the council’s solar farm was built on “reasonable quality” agricultural land.
Cllr Lewis said agricultural land was easily returned to its original use when solar farms reached the end of their working life.
She added: “It (the solar proposal) will of course go out to public consultation.”
The council declared a climate emergency in June, and Cllr Lewis reminded the committee of other environmentally-focused projects being undertaken, such as the retrofitting of some council houses with solar panels and battery storage, and the expansion of its electric-powered vehicle fleet.
She added that electric charging points would be installed in council-owned car parks in due course, but that a lot of due diligence work was needed.
“Grid connections and costs to support the connections can be in the tens of thousands (of pounds),” she said.