Future Energy Llanwern Ltd is proposing to build a solar farm which would generate enough power for the whole of Newport and Monmouthshire alongside a host of land management proposals to improve the local environment and support nature recovery.
A unique set of circumstances exist here, which make this the right location for the scheme. The decommissioning of the coal-fired power stations at Uskmouth, coupled with the reduced power demands for heavy industry at the
Llanwern Steelworks has freed up capacity on the local electricity network in the area. In turn, this has provided an opportunity for the connection of localised renewable energy at a time when the grid is highly constrained in other parts of the country and a five-fold increase in power generation is needed in Wales. With the site being located in the Gwent Levels, the developer is mindful of the environmental sensitivities of the site and is experienced in delivering solar energy projects within the area. In fact, the project would deliver significant environmental benefits to the area through the restorative works to the distinct watercourses which are a key characteristic of the local landscape. A collection of local landowners have voluntarily agreed to host the project, noting the key benefits in securing the viability of their wider farming enterprises at a challenging time for agricultural businesses. A separate fund of £10m will be set aside to support the local communities with initiatives such as free electric vehicle charging for those who live close to the scheme.
The project therefore typifies the transition from carbon intensive fossil fuels to a clean, domestic energy supply harnessing renewable sources and delivering real social, economic and environmental benefits through the process.
So why is this scheme needed? Welsh Government have set targets to provide all of Wales’s electricity from renewable sources by 2035, while at the same time electricity demand is soaring and set to double by 2050; it’s a moving target which is getting further and further away. As a result, Welsh Government confirmed in 2023 that “we need a fivefold increase in generation of electricity in Wales between now and 2050” . Meeting Wales’s growing demand for electricity through renewable energy is a serious challenge of paramount importance and this scheme is essential to supporting the bid to do so.
How would this scheme impact nature recovery? The area has been described in the press by a local lobby group as the “amazon of Wales” however this is very misleading. This area is actually reclaimed ‘man-made’ land that is widely farmed and in poor condition; its ecological value principally lies within the network of reens which can support a range of insect life; indeed the reens are a notified SSSI. However, most of the reens are in an unfavourable condition, suffering long term neglect from under-management, pollution and fly tipping. These proposals include substantial buffers to all reens and a plan for urgent improvements to the reens and long-term management with the objective of achieving a favourable status and achieving nature recovery. And of course, by combatting climate change the scheme is addressing the biggest threat to nature recovery.
A statutory consultation with the local community is scheduled later in 2024 to gather valuable input and insights.