£450 million Cleve Hill solar farm submits DCO application with reduced scale

Hive Energy and Wirsol have submitted their application to develop their planned nationally significant solar farm, Cleve Hill, albeit on a slightly reduced scale to that originally proposed.

New details have also emerged, particularly relating to the financing of the project which is now expected to cost in the region of £450 million.

Last Friday (16 November) Cleve Hill Solar Park Limited (CHSPL), the holding company for the joint venture, confirmed that it had applied to energy secretary Greg Clark for a Development Consent Order (DCO) for the site.

The project, which is the first UK solar project to be deemed a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project due to its planned generation capacity exceeding 50MW, has been in the pipeline for some time, but has now advanced to the DCO application stage following months of public consultations.

Those consultations have brought about some changes to the original plans, with CHSPL having taken out some 28.5 hectares of land intended to be covered with solar panels from the plans, reducing the covered area by some 45.5%.

Originally revealed by Solar Power Portal last September, prolific solar developers Hive Energy and Wirsol broke cover two months later by confirming themselves to be the firms behind Cleve Hill, a prospective solar-plus-storage project that could feature as many as 1 million panels, laid out in an east-to-west orientation.

And, rather than connect to the distribution grid, Cleve Hill is to connect to the transmission grid, enabling a more fluid connection agreement with the transmission system operator, National Grid.

A spokesperson for Hive Energy confirmed to SPP that changes to the original plan will only reduce the number of panels at the solar farm to around 880,000. Furthermore, the site has been granted grid connection capacity of 350MW for both import and export.

The DCO application also reveals fresh details regarding the project’s financing.

At an expected cost of £450 million, Cleve Hill stands to be – by some distance – the costliest solar development project in the UK, however Hive and Wirsol are highly confident it will be economical when construction commences.

Initial project development costs have been met by the CHSPL joint-venture, although both Hive and Wirsol are prepared to foot additional costs if required, and the duo are to tap into their existing contacts with a “variety of financial institutions and advisers” when it comes to project finance.

The precise balance of project financing is to be determined closer to the time of construction and will be dependent on market conditions, however it will comprise both debt and equity finance measures.

The notice of a DCO application being submitted comes little more than a week after energy regulator Ofgem confirmed that the company had been granted an electricity generation licence.

That too followed a firm connection agreement with National Grid, paving the way for the formal application to be submitted.

The Planning Inspectorate now has 28 days to formally accept the application for determination, however CHSPL does not expect to receive a formal decision from the secretary of state until either late 2019 or early 2020, meaning it will be some time yet until the development gets underway.

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