County council drops £2m investment plans for Merston Solar Farm

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Plans to invest £2m in a solar farm project near Merston have been dropped by West Sussex County Council.

The authority was proposing to take an equity stake in a community benefit society, which would own the five megawatt solar farm off Pagham Road, along with Meadow Blue Community Energy (MBCE), which raised almost £1.5m in a share offering late last year.

But late last month members of the Performance and Finance Select Committee raised concerns about the £283,000 return to the county council over 16 years, something one Tory councillor said did ‘not look particularly good’.

A spokesman from West Sussex County Council said: “We have thoroughly looked into investing in the proposed Merston Solar Farm site.

“It is right that we evaluate any possibilities as well as risks when investing taxpayers’ money, including the benefits of sustainable energy for our community and income generation for the council.

“There were a number of complex legal and financial issues that needed to be resolved in a short timescale in order to safeguard the council’s investment, which is why we decided to not invest in this scheme, although we wish the project every success.

“This was the position put to the recent meeting of the council’s Performance and Finance Select Committee and the committee agreed with the approach taken.”

As well as a £283,000 return, the council would have also had a say in where part of community benefit funding, projected to be around £4.5m, would be spent on supporting future energy reduction and fuel poverty projects in West Sussex.

Officers told councillors last month that the project was working to very tight timescales as it had to be up and running by the start of June to take advantage of the more generous Feed in Tariff (FIT), which is paid when electricity is fed into the national grid.

As part of a separate project the first half of the Merston Solar Farm was completed back in December last year by Primrose Solar.

Community benefits include an annual fund to support local environmental and social schemes, which will be managed by Oving Parish Council, and a programme of educational projects for local schools.

The completed 5mW solar farm was part of a 10mW facility that Solstice Renewables gained planning permission for back in March 2015.

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