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Council’s cabinet member for environment speaks out against massive solar farm plans

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Councillor Andrew Stevens, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Infrastructure has spoken out against plans to build a massive solar farm on 85 acres of farmland between Gorseinon, Fforestfach, Gowerton and Waunarlwydd.

Called Parc Solar Caenewydd, the development proposed by Taiyo Power & Storage would generate up to 44MW of power for export into local electricity circuits and power 11,500 homes across the SA4 3, SA4 4 and SA5 4 postcode areas.

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As the solar farm is over 10MW, it is classed as a development of national significance, which means that the Welsh Government would make any planning decisions rather than Swansea Council.

Cllr Stevens, a local farmer who also represents the Gorseinon and Penyrheol ward, says that to take such a large amount of productive local farmland out of use does not sit well with him at all – even more so how the proposals have come about.

Cllr Andrew Stevens

In a facebook post, Cllr Stevens said: “It’s not a case of pumpkin picking over solar and if framed in that way, it’s a no brainer. Renewable energy wins hands down.

“This is a case of food production vs green energy. I would like to say that we could potentially have both, but I am not confident at this stage that this is happening here. There is mention of sheep but to me this seems more of an afterthought to make the scheme more palatable and keep the grounds tidy.

“Don’t get me wrong, there are many many benefits to renewables, and given the climate crisis we are in, we need to be switching to green energy and doing so at pace while ensuring that its affordable for our community. We need things like offshore wind and even more so the tidal lagoon, that thankfully due to Swansea Council, Welsh Government and partners will be coming in the form of Blue Eden following UK Government previously pulling the plug.

“However, we still need food security, and we must ensure that we don’t replace one for the other, which is what seems to be happening here. There are some very positive elements of the scheme; in particular the nature corridors and biodiversity enhancements, but these could have (and probably were) happening alongside food production anyway. The move to sustainable farming payments could help this even more and ensure more affordable, sustainable local produce for all.

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The proposed site of the Parc Solar Caenewydd solar farm

Cllr Stevens added: “We have some of the most environmentally friendly farming methods in the world, and local food production is key to not only a healthy environment but vital to the local economy.

“Generations of farming methods must have our support.

“What people do not realise is that the land is not owned by the farmer(s) farming the land but by Penllergare estate. Do not confuse this with a small business owner trying to diversify their business by adding a small solar installation alongside everything else.

“The application seemed to be timed well, given the increase in everyone’s fuel costs and I have asked the company involved multiple times if this will mean a direct reduction in energy costs for residents, but I have never had a direct answer.

“Usually solar panels generate income for any landowner, and off the top of my head, the costs to lease for solar used to be approx. £1100 per acre per annum. The area covered by panels would be 85 acres, which would net an income of almost £100’000 annually for the duration of the lease.

“Personally I am not convinced as of yet that the application is anything other than a new way for the landowners to cash in on the push to green energy, and I find the apparent way the tenants who have farmed here for generations have been treated to be nothing short of a tragedy.

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“No Farmers No Food.”

Simon Crowe, Director at Taiyo, said:Parc Solar Caenewydd  represents a nationally significant step in supporting the Welsh and UK Governments’ emissions reduction, biodiversity and food security plans.

“With the current energy crisis affecting millions across the country, the need to transition to UK-generated renewable energy has never been clearer. The opportunity to do this whilst still supporting sheep grazing means that local clean energy needs can be met in tandem with valuable food production.

“Additionally, our plans include significant green infrastructure enhancements which will help to restore natural habitats in the Afon Llan valley.”

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