Plan for £3million solar farm to power Torbay Hospital

Torbay Weekly

Torbay Council has given the green light to spend £3 million on a new solar farm at a former landfill site.

Nightingale Park, near The Willows housing estate in Torquay, is brownfield land that was used for landfill between the 1950s and 1980s.

If the project goes ahead as expected, the solar farm will provide a direct power line to Torbay Hospital.

At its peak, it should deliver 3.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 900 homes.

The plans also include a path around the solar farm for walkers and runners.

In July 2020, the Cabinet approved £2 million to develop the site, but that’s gone up by 50 per cent in the year since, and it will now need just over £3 million.

At Cabinet, Cllr Andrew Barrand said: “I think it’s a great idea and a great use of the land,” but expressed concerns about the £1 million increase in costs.

The council said this increase is because previously it didn’t know who the final user of the power would be.

Part of the £1 million extra cost will go to the construction of a direct power line to Torbay Hospital.

It still expects the project to create a small profit but says it won’t be afraid to pull the plug if the farm becomes financially unviable.

The facility will be paid for out of the council’s economic growth fund, a £100 million kitty of money borrowed from the government at a discount rate and aimed at driving redevelopment in Torbay.

The park had been considered previously for other uses, including a new stadium for Torquay United football club.

Cllr Chris Lewis said: “I think it’s a great shame that Nightingale Park will be used for this purpose.”

He argued it would use too much of the available flat land in Torbay and that he would like to see it used for a new football stadium or housing.

Cllr Darren Cowell, Cabinet member for finance, described these other potential uses such as a stadium as 'quite fanciful' because of the costs of cleaning up the brownfield site.

He said the council had held discussions with Torquay United but that these had not evolved into any serious plans and that he had not received any requests from the club since the idea of the solar farm went public.

Cllr Cowell praised the green credentials of the solar farm and the chance of redevelopment, saying: “It provides an opportunity to invest in the park. It’s a sorry state in some areas.”

It is hoped the site will help the council reach its targets of being carbon neutral by 2030.

At present solar energy only provides under two per cent of the Bay’s energy.

Cllr Mike Morey, Cabinet member for infrastructure, environment and culture, said: “We’ve all been reminded very recently of the effect of manmade climate change with major floods throughout Europe and fires elsewhere.

"We must play our part, even if in this case it’s a relatively small part.

“This will reduce Torbay’s carbon footprint through the production of green energy.”

The council will now finalise terms of supplying power with the Torbay Hospital trust by the end of October.

If the deal goes ahead, the council will then decide on whether to use ten per cent of the surplus energy for community use.

In the unlikely event the deal falls through, the council says it will go ahead and use the power itself - if doing so is financially viable.