Helping deliver solar farms during turbulent times

Acting for Lark Energy, Athene ran the community and stakeholder engagement programmes for several solar farms across the east of England. The first step required a detailed Community Audit for each of the proposed locations, providing an understanding of the make-up of local communities, the local policy and political framework, as well as the needs and ambitions of local communities. Audits are vital in assessing and identifying the likely political and public reaction to any proposed development, and form an important part of the overall project risk assessment and its viability.

Having identified the key local stakeholders, they were engaged at the earliest possible stage of the development process. This early engagement is on the critical path to achieving planning success as it allows potential objectors to voice concern. These concerns, whether real or false, can then be acted on – sometimes through changes to the proposals, sometimes merely through clarification.

Dialogue ranged from face to face meetings with stakeholders and potential objectors through to public exhibitions. For any type of development, it is vital to explain clearly the nature and benefits of the scheme, and the feedback from the exhibitions showed that 93 of respondents (averaged across the sites) stated the event enhanced their understanding of the proposal with 82 rating the events as excellent.

This approach, along with the Community Audit, provided invaluable insight into each area. Lark Energy was equipped with the information needed to assemble the proposed schemes in a way and to a timetable that best suited the local community and other influential stakeholders.

Following a central government review of the Feed-In-Tariff that supported solar farms in the UK, there was a requirement to accelerate the programme of public engagement for the proposed sites. Athene was able to provide all the programmes of engagement including formal Statements of Community Involvement to Lark Energy within one month, whilst meeting all statutory targets and maintaining the ongoing support of communities.

A number of solar farms are now connected to the National Grid and are supplying clean electricity: Ellough, Stradishall, Hawton, Whittlesey, Bourne, Marston and Wymeswold.