Frequently Asked Questions
The project will have environmental benefits (reducing emissions and promoting biodiversity), economic benefits (income for shareholders and cleaner, cheaper local power) and social benefits (a community fund that we will use locally to tackle fuel poverty and encourage local sustainability).
General Questions about the Solar Farm
How can I find and comment on the planning application?
You can view and comment on the planning application by visiting Wealden District Council’s website and searching for the application using WD/2015/1635/MEA or LAND AT WICK STREET, BERWICK, BN26. The link is as below and, to leave feedback, there is a button on the main page for the application saying “Comment on this application”. Alternatively you can visit the Council’s offices to see a hard copy.
Will the land still be farmed?
Yes; we have specifically agreed with the landowners that the land under the panels will be grazed by sheep. Many farmers with solar farms are now reporting little loss in agricultural output and, in fact, substantial benefits for livestock, who appreciate the shelter in winter and the shade in summer!
The land is grade 3b (1 is highest), so we are not taking top quality land out of production.
Will there be benefits for wildlife?
Yes; we intend to enhance the area for wildlife by using a wildflower seed mix, reinstating an ancient field boundary with a new mixed hedgerow and consulting local wildlife experts on other measures. In summer 2015 we organized a community day for our partners at Berwick Solar Park when a Swift Tower for up to 11 pairs of Swifts was erected and it has already been visited by swifts looking for nesting sites for next year. We also helped put up bird and bat boxes. All those involved are genuinely interested in making this a haven for wildlife.
What size will the project be in comparison to the existing site at Wick Street? How many acres, how many solar panels and how many megawatts will it generate?
The project will comprise up to 3.5 MegaWatts of panels which will generate enough power for about 880 homes. It will cover about 16 Acres. There will be approximately 13,000 solar panels and this will result in annual savings in carbon dioxide equivalent to 1,880 tonnes annually. The existing site already built comprises around 7 MegaWatts of panels on, proportionally, a larger area due to the community and ecological features in the site.
Will the project be visible?
The site is generally well hidden but there will be some limited visibility from certain parts of three local properties but we are working to minimise the impact for them by planting new hedgerows and keeping the panel height as low as possible. More broadly, the project is located on land that is not visible from the C39 road at Wick Street. The site will be just visible from the Downs but only if you look very carefully! A seldom-used bridle way runs adjacent to the southern end of the site.
Was this site in the original application for the Berwick Solar Farm? Why was it not included in the final planning application?
Yes; this ‘northern field’ was withdrawn from the original planning application. This was due to two things. Firstly, bad weather delayed the harvest, meaning that the archaeological survey had to be delayed. This was subsequently completed and showed no findings that cannot be dealt with. Secondly English Heritage raised points which could not be resolved in time but, again, have now been dealt with.
How long will it take to build and when will it be operational?
If the project is granted planning permission, our intention is that it will be built in about 10 weeks in early 2016 and will be generating clean energy by the summer of 2016.
Is there likely to be a rise in local floodwater due to the project?
No; the risk of flooding has been studied carefully and taken into account in our plans. During the construction of the Berwick Solar Farm it was discovered that a drain under the C39 was already blocked – explaining flooding problems on the road well before the solar farm project. This has now been cleared by the Highways Authority and there have been no further problems.
Will the construction of the project cause any traffic disruption?
To ensure that the solar farm traffic is managed carefully we will have a Traffic Management Plan that will be agreed by the local highways authority. The number of vehicle movements will vary over the construction period, depending on the activities being undertaken on site. During weeks 1 to 3, the busiest anticipated weeks, it is expected that there will be up to 9 HGV deliveries per day.
Is this project an extension to the Berwick Solar Farm? Why wasn’t it included in the previous application?
This project is a separate project that will be entirely owned by the community through a share offer and run by a separate local Community Benefit Society. However, we are also pioneering a new type of commercial-community partnership for the UK, in that the developers of Berwick Solar Park have helped us in several ways to get to this stage. First, when they built their project, they did it in such a way as to allow us to use the same grid connection. This required substantial investment on their part. Second, they have provided substantial expertise and time to develop the planning application at no up-front cost to the community company. If successful, we would be the first joint project of its kind in the UK, setting an inspiring precedent for others to bring the benefits of clean local power to local people.
Will I be able to visit the site?
Cuckmere Community Solar will encourage people to visit the site. We will be hosting a number of community events on the site during the year and we would love you to come and enjoy them with us!
Will you upgrade the solar farm in future years as solar technology improves?
This is not currently envisaged. Any such decision would be a matter for members and would probably require a new planning application.
What will happen to the solar farm at the end of the project?
If received, planning consent would be for 27 years. The plan is that the project will end at that point and the land will return to normal agricultural use. Any change to this would require a new planning application. Much will have changed in energy technology by then, so if there were an appetite to continue in some way, we would consult with all relevant parties and investigate the best way forward. But that is a very long way off! There is much to be done in the meantime, using our revenue to help local people to make their homes warmer and cheaper to run.
Questions about the Community Owned Company
Who owns Cuckmere Community Solar Company?
Cuckmere Community Solar Company will be owned by its members and set up as a Community Benefit Society. A board of Directors will be voted on by its members each year at an Annual General Meeting. This legal form is essential for our project as it places restrictions on the company to ensure the community nature and goals of the organisation are maintained. The project has been developed by a diverse and experienced group of people drawn from the local community.
Who are the commercial partners that Cuckmere Community Solar Company is working with?
Our commercial partners are Susenco, the Sustainable Energy Company, and their investors, Low Carbon Limited. Susenco initiated this project in response to interest in community ownership that was raised during the public consultation of the Berwick Solar Farm in the Autumn and Winter of 2013.
Members will receive an annual return on their investment, providing a benefit to the local economy. The project will generate clean electricity that helps fight climate change and contributes to ensuring energy security for the country. The local community will benefit as surplus income will form our ”Community Dividend”, which we will invest in helping local people to make their homes warmer and cheaper to run; it will also support environmental education and local sustainability projects.
Will local people receive a discount on energy bills as a result of involvement in the project?
This is more complicated than it might seem! We will sell our power to a power company. It then goes into the network, the only practical and legal way for the power to reach you. Our aim is that you will then be able to buy our energy at a reduced rate. Watch this space – sign up to our newsletter.
Questions about Investing in Cuckmere Community Solar Company
How much money do you need to raise?
We are looking for initial seed investment of £150,000 from a small group of investors and then the main funding will be of up to around £3.5 million.
How will I be able to invest and what is the minimum investment?
If you are interested to invest, please register your interest via our web site at CuckmereCommunitySolar.com. The minimum investment will be £250.
Will my investment qualify for tax relief such as Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)?
The initial seed investment may qualify for the government’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). SEIS is intended to encourage investment in the relatively more risky early stages of ventures; it does so by providing an early tax rebate to the value of 50% of sums invested. The law on this is changing and if the initial seed investment does not qualify for SEIS, it will qualify for Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) at 30%. We intend for the main fundraising round to be eligible for the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) or SITR at 30%. More details will be available closer to the time as legal changes become clear.