Scotland's largest solar farm gets green light
The green light has been given for what will be Scotland's largest solar farm.
Moray Council has granted Elgin Energy planning permission for a 20MW project near Urquhart, which could see about 80,000 solar panels installed.
The farm will be constructed on the 47-hectare Speyslaw site - the equivalent of about 40 football pitches.
The largest Scottish solar farm is currently a 13MW project at Errol Estate in Perthshire, which went live in May last year.
Bristol-based Elgin Energy also developed that scheme, which includes 55,000 solar panels capable of generating power for more than 3,500 homes,.
A date for the start of the project has yet to be set.
The project will include a substation, 20 inverter stations and a CCTV camera system.
All cabling at the site - spread over three fields at the Innes Estate - will be underground, allowing sheep to graze around the panels.
Permission for the solar farm is valid for 30 years, after which the developer will have one year to decommission the works and restore the site to a condition agreed with the council.
A habitat management plan must also be approved by the council before works can begin.
In a statement, Elgin Energy said: "Existing field boundaries will not be disturbed and mature hedgerows will provide generous screening for the site.
"Elgin Energy has contacted those neighbours in the immediate vicinity of the site and has offered to answer any queries which might arise.
"The land will remain in agricultural use in the form of sheep grazing while being used for the dual purpose of generating low-carbon renewable energy."
Councillor Claire Feaver, chairwoman of Moray Council's Planning and Regulatory Services Committee, said: "A significant amount of renewable energy will be generated by this solar farm over the next 30 years.
"The opportunity to continue grazing on the land, together with the habitat management plan, will maintain and enhance the diverse range of species in and around the site.
"I see this as a win-win."
Scottish Renewables welcomed news that the Speyslaw project had been given the go-ahead.
'Attractive to developers'
Policy manager Stephanie Clark said: "Large-scale solar has played a part in Scotland since 2005 and we are now beginning to see more applications for commercial projects coming forward.
"North east Scotland's clear skies and longer daylight hours mean the area is attractive to developers.
"Large schemes like this one are able to use that resource to provide clean electricity which will help Scotland meet its climate change targets.
"Further progress in the solar sector, however, depends on the level of support provided by the UK government through the Feed-in Tariff and the Contracts for Difference schemes, both of which remain the subject of much uncertainty."
Elgin Energy, which has already developed 250MW of solar across 24 projects in the UK and Ireland, is planning an even bigger farm in Moray.
It is seeking planning permission for a 50MW project at the former RAF Milltown airfield, a few miles north east of Elgin.
A decision on that application is not expected until early next year.