Sunstroke: anti – solar park campaign gathers momentum

Alarm bells have been ringing recently concerning the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park development, a planned industrial solar energy farm on the outskirts of Faversham that would destroy the local landscape.

Media interest in a local campaign against the proposal, which is being vigorously run by the Graveney Rural Environment Action Team, has started to gather its own energy, with recent articles in Faversham Times and the Daily Mail picking up on the urgency of the situation.

The current proposal, for a 1000-acre farm on the marshland and arable farmland to the north-west of Graveney, threatens to destroy an important area for wildlife, part of the flood defenses for that stretch of north Kent coast, and an area of historic importance. What would be the largest solar farm in the country is possibly also the veil for speculation on the energy market, whereby companies purchase electricty, store it in an enormous battery, and then sell it back to the National Grid at peak times – or, as Michael, one of the team, put it at the community event last Saturday, “when everyone goes and puts the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup.” And the project isn’t even a Government initiative; rather, it belongs to tycoon Elon Musk, who currently operates a similar installation in Australia.

Attending the community event last Saturday, held at All Saints Church in Graveney, was an eye-opening experience, not least because it put into perspective the staggering size of the proposed solar farm; each panel would be over 4.5 metres in height, allowing clearance beneath for flood-tides, across an area larger than neighbouring Faversham. A filmed fly-over of Graveney marshes (pictured above), running throughout the day, showed a bird’s-eye view of the marshland under threat – and ‘bird’s-eye’ is a phrase loaded here with extra poignancy, given that the plans threaten Schedule 1 birds and other wildlife, for whom the area provides crucial nesting and feeding habitats as well as a corridor on migratory patterns.

Behind the church, basking in the peaceful height of a gloriously sunny day, visitors were able to stand and look out over the landscape which could soon disappear beneath a wealth of double-decker-bus-height solar panels and industrial energy installations.

A view of the area under threat from behind All Saint Church, Graveney

Local voices have also stepped forward to express their concerns, including Faversham and Mid-Kent’s MP, Helen Whately, who attended Saturday’s information event, Janet Street-Porter and even Swale Green Party’s Tim Valentine. “It comes to something,” said Michael in his quietly authoritative way, “when even the Green Party objects to plans for renewable energy…”

So what now ? The action team has set up an online petition, which people are urged to sign (see online here); there is also the opportunity to provide comments and feedback to the developers before the deadline on July 13 (see online here); and the GREAT website has additional suggestions for ways in which to become involved here.

The community event at the weekend really brought home the personal issues threatened by the proposal, the impact on both the rural and the social communities for whom the plans would have devastating consequences. Take a look at the campaign’s website here, join the dialogue on Twitter here, and find out more about the proposal and how (if you wish) you can get involved in the fight to preserve a unique, historic and incredibly valuable (currently) unspoiled part of our coast.

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