Tophams Solar - PACE Community Portal
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Introduction

Pathfinder Clean Energy (PACE) will shortly be bringing forward a proposal for the Tophams Solar Farm, with battery energy storage, on land off Ashwell Road.

As you may know, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued stark warnings of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade if urgent action isn’t taken. The Government has committed to a target of “net zero carbon emissions” and a transition away from fossil fuels for energy supply in little more than a decade.

Solar and battery farms, such as that proposed off Ashwell Road, are a key part of tackling the climate emergency and will form the backbone of the new zero carbon energy system.

This website contains details of our proposals, but in summary:

  • Ashwell Road solar farm will generate enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of over 15,700 homes a year.
  • Solar farms take up a very small proportion of the land they occupy, leaving huge scope for biodiversity enhancements. In fact, an assessment has demonstrated that proposed biodiversity measures will increase habitat by 125%, by creating new meadows, and increase hedgerows by over 40%.
  • No agricultural land will be lost and sheep can graze under and around the solar panels during operation.
  • Once operational, there will be almost no traffic. Construction traffic will be managed to minimise disturbance.
  • Solar panels are safe with no known health risks.
  • The batteries are similar to those used in phones and laptops and help reduce risks of power cuts by storing and then releasing energy at times of high demand.
  • Public footpaths will remain open during construction and operation and trees and hedges will be planted to create a pleasant route that also provides a wildlife corridor.

Several sites were considered in the area. This site was selected as having few environmental constraints, including ecology and heritage.

The local topography and design of the solar farm means that it will not be visible from the settlements of Bygrave or Ashwell. The public footpaths around the western edge of the site will be set within a wide corridor with new hedges planted to create a green buffer. The large green area in the south-west of the site will be available to use by the public and include biodiversity improvements.

The size of the site presents significant opportunities for biodiversity improvements, including creating new habitat for birds and insects. It will not be necessary to remove any trees or hedges and the land beneath the panels will be available for grazing livestock as well as biodiversity improvements.

Construction traffic will access the site from the existing field entrance on Ashwell Road, close to Cat Ditch in the north east of the site. The short construction period means that any disturbance to residents will be kept to a minimum.

As a result, PACE believes the proposed development would be in keeping with the character of the area and would make a vital contribution to reducing the risks of climate change.

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Who we are

Pathfinder Clean Energy brings together experience from the development, construction and operation of over 1GW of clean energy projects. This allows us to bring the latest best practices, technical solutions and innovation to our projects.

PACE is headquartered in the UK and is committed to a sustainable future. We are working to create low-carbon energy to the benefit of the environment and the community.

Our team includes ecologists, landscape and heritage specialists who help us to create environmentally friendly solar farms.

We would welcome suggestions from you as to how we can improve our project.

What will it be like and why do we need it?

Solar farms are becoming a common feature in the British landscape. They use photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate energy from daylight and distribute it to homes and businesses. Batteries store excess energy produced during the day for use at times of high demand, thereby helping to reduce the risk of power cuts.

They are necessary because coal power stations are closing and climate change commitments require big increases in renewable energy.

Solar farms produce home grown energy which contributes to the UK becoming energy independent and reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels. This is particularly important as demand for electricity for electric vehicles and heating grows.

No harmful greenhouse gas emissions are produced. The batteries use similar technology to mobile phones and laptops, and do not contain hazardous materials.

The development will generate very little noise and will not be heard outside of the site.

At the end of its 40 year operational life, the site will be completely restored.

What will it look like?

The proposed solar farm is located on land off Ashwell Road, SG7 5EB. The settlement of Bygrave is to the south-east and Ashwell is over a mile away to the north.

The PV arrays will be ground mounted in south facing rows, while the batteries will be housed in containers. Neither will exceed 3m in height.

Existing hedges and trees, a large space with no development and the local topography, means that the development will not be visible from vantage points to the south and south-east. It will not be visible from Ashwell.

Below are a selection of computer generated images prepared by PACE to illustrate what the solar farm will look like. Use the slider below to see a recent photograph before (left) and expected view after development (right). Once available, you can also download these in the downloads section.

Viewpoint Location 4
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Use the sliders above to see pictures taken recently and how we expect them to look after the development is constructed and landscaping mitigation added.
Viewpoint Location 6
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Viewpoint Location 1
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Viewpoint Location 2
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Viewpoint Location 3
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Viewpoint Location B
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How will we access the site?

Once operational, solar farms generate almost no traffic. The construction period will last approximately 20 - 30 weeks.

The proposed route is to approach the site from the north, through Ashwell as shown on the map.

The development will be connected to the electricity grid in Letchworth.

During construction, there may be some noise on some days. This won’t last long and our aim is to keep it to a minimum. Prior to development we will agree restrictions on working hours.

A management plan will be agreed with the Council in advance, which will include details of how you can contact us in the event of a problem.

What are the benefits?

Click the image to enlarge, or download a high-res version here.

Tophams solar farm will have the capacity to generate 40 megawatts of clean, renewable energy which will power the equivalent of over 15,700 households each year.

Battery storage will also provide power at times of high demand.

Solar power has become one of the most cost effective energy sources available. Therefore, it will be built without public subsidies.

Solar farms take up a very small proportion of the land they occupy, leaving huge scope for biodiversity. Research has shown they improve the diversity and abundance of broad leaved plants, grasses, butterflies, bumblebees and birds, including those with conservation status. Details of the enhancements we will provide can be found in the graphic, and we would welcome your comments on this.

No agricultural land will be lost. Small livestock, such as sheep, can graze under and around the solar panels during operation, providing a dual benefit of agriculture and energy generation. The reduction in intensive agriculture and chemical fertilisers will naturally improve the quality of the soils, leaving them in a better condition at the end of the life of the solar farm.

The rapid construction time provides faster access to renewable power and lowers the nation’s carbon footprint, without creating harmful emissions or noise outside of the solar farm.

What are the timescales?

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we are unable to hold a Community Information Day in the area so have provided all of our proposed details here online.

Engaging with the community is important to us and we welcome your feedback on our proposals, along with any suggestions you might have to improve them. Please fill out our survey here.

We will use your feedback to improve the development before submitting a planning application to North Hertfordshire District Council, who will in turn carry out their own public consultation.

It takes the council approximately 13 weeks for the Council to decide the application. If approved, further design and management details usually need to be agreed before we can start building, such as construction management and ecological management plans.

PACE will then construct the solar farm. Most deliveries are completed in the first six weeks of a construction period that usually lasts 20-30 weeks.

Further information / downloads

We have commissioned a comprehensive set of surveys to help determine the site area and layout, so that impacts on residents can be minimised, and to identify opportunities for improving the proposals.

Below you can find links to some more detailed plans as they become available. You will be able to find all of our submission documents on the council's planning portal once we have submitted the application. The planning reference for the project will also be provided here.

The surveys include:

Comment or contact us

We welcome you to take our short survey here. Alternatively you can give us a call on 01362 527 093 and we can arrange for someone to call you back.

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