Bright idea as solar power sites identified

Bonaly Country Park is one of nine sites identified as a possible location for solar power development.  Pic: Kate Chandler
Bonaly Country Park is one of nine sites identified as a possible location for solar power development. Pic: Kate Chandler
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ROLLING banks of solar panels would be installed in disused quarries and former bings under radical plans to slash Edinburgh’s carbon footprint.

Nine target sites have been identified within early blueprints – including a 279-hectare swathe of Bonaly Country Park – which could see “meadows” of solar panels fixed for the next 25 years.

The five-acre Dalkeith solar meadow. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The five-acre Dalkeith solar meadow. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Just one hectare of solar panels could power 100 homes, and a council report suggests that any surplus energy could then be sold back to the National Grid. Many of the identified sites are privately owned and while no decision has been made, it is understood all will be investigated for their solar-energy potential. Planning and environmental advice will also be taken to ensure “they are fit for the proposed purpose”.

Along with Bonaly, other sites include the former tip at Blinkbonny, Torphin Quarry, Blackford Quarry and the Gilmerton Bing.

Councillor Chas Booth, energy spokesman for Edinburgh Greens, welcomed the plans but said he did not believe Bonaly Country Park “would make the cut”.

He said: “Development of renewables needs to be with community buy-in and in suitable places, as the Harlaw Hydro project in Bonaly shows.

“Edinburgh also needs desperately to fit this into a bigger picture to seize the renewables opportunity. Cities like Munich bring in millions of euros from generating energy on council buildings and land. Glasgow and Aberdeen are well ahead of Edinburgh too. Solar could be standard on public buildings, we could see new community-owned hydro on the Water of Leith and there should be real effort put into harnessing the huge potential of wind power.”

John Stirling, chair of Friends of the Pentlands, said his group “would not be dancing in the aisles” if solar banks were introduced to Bonaly Country Park.

He added: “Our logo is conservation, protection and enhancement and I don’t see that in these plans. We would have to look at this very carefully but I think someone is flying a kite with the Bonaly suggestion.”

The solar fields bid in Edinburgh comes six months after a five-acre site in Dalkeith was given over to more than 2500 photo-voltaic panels – becoming Scotland’s first solar meadow.

Run by Edinburgh College, the £1.2 million scheme will generate enough electricity each year to meet the college’s needs and reduce annual carbon emissions by 300,000 kilogrammes.

Last month, the Evening News told how a deal to fit hundreds of solar panels to council buildings is to be rushed through – to allow the authority to profit from sky high feed-in tariffs.

Plans to fit the roofs of about 25 publicly-owned buildings across Edinburgh with the energy-producing panels will be approved to help the cash-strapped authority pay for community projects.

Tariq Muneer, professor of energy engineering at Edinburgh Napier University, said the plans “made sense” and were a step in the right direction. “I would welcome this because we need to put more money into renewable energy and these are the truly sustainable sources of energy.

“The solar industry is now competing and the Germans say that by 2016 it will compete head-on with the fossil fuel industry and I think that’s not a bad estimate.”

Leading renewables expert Jonathan Scurlock, a chief advisor to the National Farmers’ Union, said just one hectare of “suitably placed” solar panels could power approximately 100 homes in Edinburgh.

He said: “Solar panels don’t have to be hideous and have an advantage over wind power because you can’t get away from the fact that wind turbines are pretty prominent.

“There is an opportunity with solar to actually have it blend into the landscape.”

Mark Turley, director of services for communities, wrote in the report to councillors on the solar meadow proposals that officials would have to take into account the landscape/visual impact, ecological impact, archeology, impact on communities, “glint and glare impacts” and any aviation issues.

Cllr Frank Ross, convener of the economy committee, said: “This is still at a very early stage and if the committee agree the report we published this week, all of the sites named will then have to be assessed for their suitability.”

The solar panel report will be discussed at Monday’s economy committee.

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com