Warrington Borough Council announces major investment in PV to power local services

Warrington Borough Council has announced plans to acquire two new large solar farms that will supply the power used by the council for decades and gain income from providing grid services.

The assets are a 34.7MWp hybrid solar farm plus 27MW lithium ion battery storage at built on 198 acres of low-grade agricultural land at Boscar Grange, York. It is expected to be operational by October 2019.  A 25.7MWp solar farm at Hull on 131 acres of low-grade agricultural land near Bilton, will follow. A battery storage system is also planned to be installed at Hull in a later phase of the project.

Developer Gridserve reached financial close on the projects last week, and construction of the York array will start immediately.

Warrington Borough Council will pay £62.34 million for the two assets and will take ownership when they are operational. It expects the Hull solar farm will supply all the council’s electricity needs and cut its energy bills by up to £2 million a year.

Electricity from the York solar farm will initially be sold on the open market, although Warrington says other local authorities have expressed an interest in buying its power. It says the two projects will generate millions of pounds in profits every year for 30 years.

Gridserve will continue to operate and maintain the solar farms over their lifetimes. York and Hull will be the first UK solar farms to use bifacial solar panels, which generate energy on both sides. They will also  use trackers which follow the sun, maximising generation over the whole day, and minimising price cannibalisation risk from solar farms with fixed position solar panels which typically produce peak output at the same time each day.

Toddington Harper, chief executive and founder of Gridserve and former chief executive and co-founder of Belectric UK, said the project would “help generate sustainable income to deliver vital public services, meet climate targets with clean energy, and support a low carbon economy.”  He added, “We’ve completely rethought the solar model, looking in detail at how to maximise value at every step, and these projects will also pioneer the use of cutting-edge technologies that serve the grid”

Leader of Warrington Borough Council, Cllr Russ Bowden said: “The solar farms will secure our energy supply, give us control over our energy prices, contribute to reducing fuel poverty and generate an estimated operating surplus of £150 million over 30 years that can be invested back into the most important frontline services.  Councils have a major role to play in helping to meet carbon emission reduction targets. These two sites are a working model that we hope other local authorities will follow.”

Grideserve and Warrington also plan to install Electric Forecourts linked to both sites once they are up and running. These will be amongst the first in a nationwide network Grideserve is developing, offering supercharging for up to 24 electric vehicles simultaneously.

Investec Bank and Leapfrog Finance will fund construction. Advising on the transaction were Watson Farley & Williams, DNV GL, and Marsh (for Investec); Lux Nova Partners (for Leapfrog Finance); TLT LLP and UKGlobal (for Grideserve); and Geldards (for Warrington).

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