Plans for a 100 acre solar farm next to Cardiff Airport in the Vale of Glamorgan have sparked concerns that farmland in the county is being increasingly saturated by solar panels. 

The proposals for the 35-megawatt development would see several arable fields chewed up by the development, the latest in a string of large scale solar farms across the Vale. 

Bizarrely, the solar farm has been dubbed 'East Aberthaw Solar' by the London-based investment firm behind the plans, even though it lies between the hamlets of Fonmon and Nurston, and not, in fact, in East Aberthaw. 

The National Wales: East Aberthaw Solar would be situated on arable land next to the hamlets of Fonmon and Nurston in the Vale of Glamorgan. Photo: Siriol GriffithsEast Aberthaw Solar would be situated on arable land next to the hamlets of Fonmon and Nurston in the Vale of Glamorgan. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

"We are outraged that it's such a massive plan," Denise Cooper told The National. She lives next to the fields where the proposed solar farm would be situated, and explained the plans have been met with "blanket opposition" locally.

"Three meter panels just four meters from property boundaries, directly in front of a Grade II listed property. Also inadequate road access, i.e. already over busy single track country lanes. So many issues really..."

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Although supportive of clean, renewable energy, residents have voiced concerns over the loss of yet more arable farmland and question why panels could not be situated on nearby brownfield sites instead, or even on the rooftops of new housing developments. 

"While we need a mix of rewable energy sources, we also now have a recognised food security issue and need to be less reliant on imports, such as we've seen as a result of the Ukraine war," Paul Davenport, who lives nearby, said. 

"There are more appropriate spaces for solar farms as opposed to building them on arable land that should be used for growing crops."

The National Wales: The East Aberthaw Solar farm would see several fields taken up by three metre high panels. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe East Aberthaw Solar farm would see several fields taken up by three metre high panels. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

The development by Low Carbon Investment Management Ltd - the company also behind the equally controversial Parc Traffwll mega solar farm plans on Ynys Môn - would see photovoltaic panels stand at a maximum height of three metres above ground level. They would all then be connected to the grid via a cable leading to an existing power substation in the nearby Tarmac cement factory.

Low Carbon claim their panels would generate enough energy to power approximately 11,630 homes per year and offset approximately 7,161 tonnes of CO2 annually - equivalent to taking more than 3,818 cars off the road. The firm would sink £15million to £17million into building the solar farm. 

Due to the scale of the solar farm, it has been classed as a 'Development of National Significance', meaning the planning application has bypassed the local authority and has gone straight to Wales' new planning inspectorate - Planning and Environmental Decisions Wales (PEDW). A recommendation will then be made by PEDW to the Climate Change Minister over whether to grant permission or not.

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Barry and Vale Friends of the Earth oppose the development, as it stands, and argue that better options are available. A spokesperson said: "While accepting that solar PV is important as a source of electricity, we do not accept that such a huge land area is needed, or this is the best place or this simplistic design delivers power of the quality needed..

"Farmland for growing crops has value, so has farming as a business and employment. Low value sheep rearing with few jobs per hectare is for marginal land, not for lowland farms. The low agricultural grade given to this site is because the soil has become impoverished through fertiliser/chemical based farming, the fertility could be readily restored with organic manures and crop management.

"Energy efficiency should be much higher; 22% efficient solar cells are poor technology. Expecting them to last 40 years is wrong, when efficiencies are rising annually. Planning must involve replacing the cells with more efficient ones as they become available - which should reduce the land-take." 

In a prepared statement to The National, James Hartley-Bond, Head of Project Development at Low Carbon, said: “We are extremely grateful to all those that visited the public consultation to view our initial proposals for the scheme. We received a great deal of really useful information and valuable feedback from local residents and stakeholders, which we will review alongside our ongoing technical assessments and surveys.

“Once we have refined our proposals, we will return for a second phase of consultation and to present our updated plans.”

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