It’s not just homes and businesses that are starting to get on board with solar power. We recently teamed up with Wrexham County Borough Council to build the first council-owned solar farm in Wales – one of just three in the whole of the UK.
Here we take a look at this recently completed project: how it was built, and more importantly, what it can do for the local community.
How big is it?
With nearly 9,000 photovoltaic panels covering 43 acres – the equivalent of 15 football fields – it’s one of the largest in the country.
It’s expected to generate around 2,300 MWh (megawatt-hours) per year, which is enough to power 700 homes, and to reduce carbon emissions by more than 1,200 tonnes per year.
How was it built?
Working in partnership with Wrexham Council, we designed, commissioned and built the solar farm with the help of local contractors who helped us install the panels. And it was no simple task for the teams.
They had to carefully avoid protected trees, high-voltage cables and underground gas mains. But they still managed to safely install 1,000 piles and 65,000m of cabling (or 1.5 marathon runs).
And by designing the farm with plenty of space between the panels, we managed to leave 75% of the land available for sheep to continue grazing.
We also took care to keep the local community informed and involved. We met with the local parish council before and during the work, and arranged a tour of the site so that residents could see how the work was getting on.
What does the solar farm mean for the local community?
Aside from supplying clean, renewable energy to 700 homes, the Local Authority – who funded the £2.5 million project – can also sell the excess power back to the grid using the government’s Feed-in Tariff.
This can generate a stable income for years to come that can be spent on local community needs.
On top of that, the project has created jobs for local contractors: Welsh specialists installed the panels and ensured the welfare of the site, and the installation also offers the potential for the generation of local, green jobs.
Perhaps most importantly, large-scale solar farms like this can empower local communities and businesses by putting them in control of their own energy use.
Is it affordable?
As a long-term investment, yes. At the moment, the set-up costs for solar power are higher than for other technologies. However, costs are falling more quickly for solar: 50% since 2010, and potentially another 30% by 2020.
We’re approaching the point at which solar will be commercially viable without government subsidies.
What else is British Gas doing in Wales?
We’re already supplying gas and electricity to around 375,000 Welsh homes and roughly 50,000 Welsh businesses.
But we’re also involved with a number of community projects. More than 17,000 Welsh homes have benefited from our work with fuel poverty scheme NEST, and we’re working with community benefit society Generation Community to offer solar panels for sites such as schools and town halls.
The new Wrexham solar farm is part of a wider plan to help local communities generate low-cost solar power. And according to our own head of solar, Chris Morrison, it’s a landmark project for Wales.
‘This project proves that solar energy is a sound investment: not just for commercial organisations, but also for councils and the public sector in Wales. British Gas is committed to supporting organisations of all types to benefit from renewable technologies such as solar energy that will provide them with a reliable supply of power, long-term financial returns and significant carbon reduction.’