Scottish ministers back country's largest solar energy project

Scotland's largest solar farm to date can go ahead on a disused RAF airfield in Moray, Scottish ministers have confirmed.

Milltown Airfield (pic: Steven Brown via Geograph)
Milltown Airfield (pic: Steven Brown via Geograph)

Elgin Energy is proposing to develop the 50MW solar photovoltaic project, comprising around 200,000 photovoltaic modules, on 115 hectares of land owned by the Innes Estate at Milltown Airfield, near the city of Elgin.

The airfield was decommissioned in the 1970s and since then has been used for a variety of activities including storage, heavy goods vehicle testing and sheep grazing. The site will continue to be used for grazing once construction is complete.

In a decision letter issued last week, Scottish ministers concluded that the development is supported by Scottish Planning Policy and that "any localised landscape and visual impacts are outweighed by the renewable energy, climate change and economic benefits of the proposal".

The project attracted a single objection, lodged by a householder near the site. But ministers heard that a residential visual amenity appraisal submitted by the applicants showed that, while the scheme’s impact would be "substantial" in the first year, planting would mitigate its visual effects within five years.

The Milltown scheme is the first solar project decision to be issued by the Scottish Government’s energy consents unit, which has jurisdiction for processing proposals with an output of 50MW or more.

The application was submitted last July. Moray Council’s planning committee decided last December not to lodge an objection.

"We are delighted with this outcome, which is the culmination of almost six years of preparatory work," said Elgin Energy managing director Ronan Kilduff. The company said that the completed solar farm would be capable of powering up to 15,000 homes annually.

The decision letter says the development must commence within five years. Kilduff said his company "would hope to begin developing this project in the early 2020s".

Aleksandra Klassen, national coordinator for trade body STA Scotland, said: "That such large-scale projects are being planned for in the subsidy-free era is testament to the increasingly important role solar will play in our national decarbonisation strategies."

Innes Estate owner Edward Tennant said income from the solar farm would allow reinvestment in his family’s grade A listed Innes House, which has diversified into a wedding and corporate entertainment venue over the past 20 years.

Elgin Energy developed Scotland’s largest currently operational solar farm, at Errol in Perthshire. The 13MW scheme began generating power in 2016.

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