What is a solar energy farm and how does it work?

Solar energy farms are large scale solar installations where photovoltaic (PV) panels, referred to as solar panels, are used to harvest the sun’s power. The PV panels will convert the solar energy into electricity and be exported to the National Grid via underground cables.

Tillbridge Solar will comprise the construction, operation (including maintenance), and decommissioning of ground mounted PV arrays and supporting infrastructure. The support infrastructure will include:

  • Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), allowing electricity generated by the PV panels to be stored on site and released to the national grid when required
  • Solar stations, comprising electrical equipment such as inverters and transformers
  • Substations, allowing electricity to be generated and exported to the national grid
  • Access tracks for maintenance and staff car parks
  • Security fencing and CCTV
  • Landscape planting to screen views, most likely through infilling and planting of hedgerows and trees
  • Planting within the PV array area and around the perimeter of the site to help improve the landscape and achieve Biodiversity Net Gain
  • Underground cabling connecting the solar farm with National Grid’s Cottam Substation.

Why is Tillbridge Solar needed?

The UK has set ambitious climate change targets to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to ensure that the energy supply remains secure, reliable, and affordable. Together with legally binding commitments such as these, the government has further set out how the deployment of renewable technologies such as wind, nuclear, solar and hydrogen will be accelerated in its latest Energy Security Strategy.

In this strategy, a key aim is to increase the UK’s solar capacity five-fold by 2035, which would increase the total generation capacity from 14 gigawatts (GW) today to around 70GW in the future. Tillbridge Solar would make a significant contribution towards achieving these targets and help provide a reliable source of affordable energy.

Tillbridge Solar would connect into the National Grid at Cottam Substation. The decommissioning of the previous coal-fired power station on this site has provided additional spare grid connection capacity and the opportunity for the region to play an important role in renewable energy generation in years to come.

How big will the project be?

At this early stage of our proposals, we haven’t yet confirmed the exact size of the project and where the solar PV panels and associated infrastructure will be positioned.

Tillbridge Solar has an offer from National Grid to access up to 500MW of grid connection capacity, meaning that up to this amount of renewable energy generated by the project can be exported to the National Grid at one time. We are therefore working to develop a project that provides the best and most efficient solution and allows the project to provide as much renewable electricity within these constraints.

Our ongoing technical and design work, together with our early stage engagement and collaboration, will help determine the size of the project, how much land will be needed to host solar panels and associated infrastructure, and where these will go.

Where is the project located?

Tillbridge Solar will be located on land to the south, east and south-east of Gainsborough, and to the north-west of Lincoln. At this early stage we have provided indicative preferred areas for development, including where the solar panels, underground cabling, and other project infrastructure would be located. These areas are identified as ‘developable’ areas on the map on our website.

We have also identified indicative ‘non-developable’ areas, which are areas that will be considered for mitigation (such as tree planting and landscaping), but will not be used to host solar panels or associated infrastructure.

These areas have evolved over time following a desk-based site search exercise which has considered environmental, planning and operation constraints (such as the grid connection at National Grid’s Cottam Substation).

We have also identified an initial search area for our cable route corridor, where the underground cables would be located. This corridor is a broad area of land through which an electrical connection (from the PV panels to the National Grid) could be located and will vary in width. Studies are currently being carried out to determine the exact route for the connection to the National Grid.

We will continue to refine our plans to ensure minimal environmental and social impact.

Given other solar projects in Lincolnshire, why is Tillbridge Solar situated here?

The decommissioning of EDF Energy’s Cottam Power Station in 2019 freed up around 2,000MW of generating capacity in this area of Lincolnshire. Tillbridge Solar would play an important role in replacing this former generation capacity and supporting the region’s transition to producing more renewable energy.

The availability of grid connection in this area, together with our site selection exercise carried out so far, has helped to identify preferred areas for development, based on a number of environmental and planning factors.

We are aware there are a number of other proposed solar developments in the area. Lincolnshire is fast becoming the UK leader in solar energy, playing an important role in the UK’s transition away from relying on coal and imported  oil and gas, towards home-grown renewable energy that ensures self-sufficiency. However, we understand that the rate and pace of different projects may cause uncertainty for some about the impacts these projects will have for local communities.

Tillbridge Solar is a responsible developer and wishes to work with the local community to ensure that its projects cause as little disruption as possible for local people. We are in close contact with other developers to explore opportunities for coordination and collaboration. This will help us understand how these projects can be delivered collectively and efficiently, whilst reducing potential cumulative impacts to local communities.

When will communities be able to have their say on the proposals?

Consultation and engagement with local communities is important to us and forms  part of the pre-application process for Tillbridge Solar.

As the project is still in its early stages, we will be working collaboratively with stakeholders (such as local planning authorities, key community representatives and interest groups, and statutory bodies) to help understand key issues and constraints from their perspective. This early engagement includes holding a series of collaboration workshops, which will help shape the project from a technical point of view.

The ongoing development of our proposals for Tillbridge Solar will be an interactive process and will involve opportunities for local communities and wider stakeholders to express their views and provide feedback. This includes a formal period of consultation, where we are expecting to hold face-to-face consultation events, publish more detailed environmental information and widely publicise our engagement activities. We expect this consultation  to take place in early 2023.

Ongoing engagement and the feedback we receive will help refine the design of the project so that all sensitive locations and issues are addressed as far as possible, respecting the concerns of local communities.

We encourage anyone with an interest in our proposals to get in touch with any questions they may have. You can get in touch with us using our communications channels, include via email [info@tillbridgesolar.com] Freephone [0800 046 9643] or Freepost [FREEPOST TILLBRIDGE SOLAR].

What benefits are there for communities?

Tillbridge Solar is committed to ensuring that local communities can benefit from the project. Our early stage engagement will be important in helping us to understand what local schemes or projects could be supported to benefit communities located closest to the project.

What is the potential cumulative and landscape impact?

We are aware of the other solar schemes coming forward in the local area. Our landscape and wider environmental teams will be undertaking landscape and visual appraisal work to address potential cumulative impacts. If there are impacts, mitigation will be designed into the scheme. This could include the provision of landscape buffers, such as woodland planting.

What is the impact on biodiversity?

There are currently no detailed designs for Tillbridge Solar, but numerous baseline surveys are underway. The surveys will help us to understand if there are potential impacts associated with the proposed development.

Our terrestrial and aquatic ecology teams are currently carrying out habitat and species surveys which will then allow us to identify any potential biodiversity impacts of the scheme. These surveys include, but are not limited to, breeding birds, wintering birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, water vole and otter.

Where there are potential impacts, we will look to provide appropriate mitigation in consultation with Natural England. We will continue to develop our plans for the project and work with local groups and community representatives to understand how local people can benefit from the project.

What is the impact on agricultural land in the area?

A detailed Agricultural Land Classification survey is planned to be undertaken to confirm the quality of the soils that encompass the scheme. The results will be mapped showing the grading of the soils and written up in a technical report.

This information will allow us to assess the impacts of the scheme on soils and the results will feed into the design of the scheme.

What is the impact be on the landscape?

An initial landscape site visit has been undertaken to understand the landscape and visual constraints and opportunities at receptors surrounding the scheme.

The landscape and visual impacts will be assessed from a number of key views agreed with the landscape specialist from the relevant local planning authority.

Mitigation will be incorporated into the proposals where appropriate including setting back from existing development and planting to screen views where appropriate.

What is the impact on public rights of way?

The scheme design will look to avoid the closure or diversion of public rights of way. The preferred site area does not contain any public rights of way.

The impacts of the scheme on public rights of way will be assessed as part of a socio-economics and land use assessment.

What is the impact on archaeology?

As part of a cultural heritage assessment, archaeological surveys will be undertaken for the scheme in consultation with Historic England and the County Archaeologist.

This will provide the information we need to assess the impacts and identify an appropriate mitigation strategy.

How long will it take to build?

Our plans for Tillbridge Solar are still at an early stage, and the project is subject to being granted development consent from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Should the project be granted consent, construction could start as early as 2025. We anticipate that it would take two years to build the project, with the site potentially being fully operational and generating electricity from 2027.

How long will Tillbridge Solar be in operation?

We expect Tillbridge Solar to be in operation for around 40 years. After this period of time, the project would be decommissioned, which would take place in phases.

How will energy be stored?

In addition to the electricity transferred to the national grid, Tillbridge Solar would also include an on-site energy storage solution. This will ensure that excess electricity generated by the project when demand is low can be stored on site, and then be exported onto the grid when demand is higher.