Former Fife colliery could become one of Scotland’s biggest solar farms
One of Scotland's biggest solar farms could be built on the Wemyss Estate after Fife Council gave the proposal its support.
Elgin Energy, a firm specialising in renewable energy, is seeking to construct a 50 megawatt (MW) solar farm and 25MW energy storage facility at the former Randolph Coillery Site, to the north-east of Kirkcaldy.
Because of the project's scale, Fife Council is not in charge of deciding its fate.
That responsibility lies with the Scottish Government's Energy Consents Unit (ECU). However, the council is required by law to have a say in whether it believes the plans should be approved.
Elgin's plans for the hundreds of solar panels has been supported by Thornton Community Council - and on Wednesday was also given the support of local councillors, following a recommendation from Fife Council head of planning services Pam Ewen.
In her report to Fife's central and west planning committee - which was given final say on the council's opinion - Ms Ewen said the development would have some effects on local wildlife and those living in sight of it, but that measures such as hedges could be used to reduce disruption associated with, for instance, glare from the sun hitting the solar panels.
"Fife Council, as planning authority, is generally supportive of the proposed development," she wrote.
"The proposed development, cited as being one of Scotland’s largest solar farms, has the potential to make a substantial contribution towards meeting the nation's electricity needs and the Government's energy objectives."
In a mammoth 36-page justification statement, agents acting for Elgin said the 87.8 hectare facility - which could power over 15,000 Fife homes, or 20,000 electric vehicles, each year - would make a "significant contribution" to national renewable energy targets.
During development, Elgin estimates it will also create 200 temporary construction jobs and ten permanent full time roles when the project is up and running. The panels could be in operation for up to 40 years.
However, the proposed solar farm will hamper local wildlife, with the loss of 4.52 hectares of established animal habitat.
The firm aims to balance this out with 700 metres of woodland along the edge of the site and raised fencing to allow the free movement of smaller animals such as badgers and otters.
It will also allow the land between the raised solar panels to be grazed by sheep, as it has done with other solar farms elsewhere in the UK.
Ms Ewen concluded that, should these be promises kept, the plan was acceptable to the council, and her recommendation to endorse it was accepted unanimously by committee councillors.
"Providing the identified screening and mitigation measures are secured, the planning authority is satisfied that the proposed development would not give rise to adverse...concerns," she concluded.
While councillors have given the proposal the tentative thumbs up, the ECU is still to issue its final verdict. Elgin's plans are also dependent on the issuing of licences by other bodies such as NatureScot that will permit it to disrupt animal habitats.