Sawmills Solar Farm, Dawlish, Devon
Sawmills Solar Farm, Dawlish
The site is nestled in a large natural bowl within the Ashcombe estate and was carefully selected to ensure it is not visible from any public viewpoints except oblique views from a 50m stretch of the main road. It will be fully screened by tree growth within 5 years.
Sawmills solar farm at Ashcombe, near Dawlish, Devon was connected to the grid in March 2015.
With a total installed capacity of 6.5 MWp it generates enough electricity annually for the equivalent of around 2,000 average homes (around a third of the homes in Dawlish) and saves around 2,900 tonnes of CO2 per year.
The community benefit fund is contributing £6,500 a year (index-linked), or over £162,500 for the lifetime of the solar farm. This is being administered by the Ashcombe Village Club whose first project has been to bring fibre-optic Broadband access to the isolated community of Ashcombe.
The Ashcombe Estate, which has 70 residents, includes 11 holiday cottages attracting over 4,000 visitors a year as well as several other businesses based within the estate boundary.
It had suffered from very poor internet connectivity and endured regular outages whenever an overhead cable was taken down by bad weather. BT confirmed that it had no plans to bring fast broadband to the isolated community. It was therefore identified as a key priority when Solstice first approached Ashcombe about its solar farm plans, and came top of the requests from residents in the public consultation.
Just over a year after the solar farm was completed the new microwave broadband mast was erected bringing speeds of up to 30MB/s at normal broadband prices and making a real difference to the work and social lives of people in this rural area.
“Thanks to the community benefit fund from the solar farm, at last Ashcombe has joined the 21st century. This new technology, which has the potential to be upgraded in future, is a huge boost to everyone who lives or works here or enjoys their holidays on the Estate and should really help the local economy.”
Ralph Rayner, Director of the Ashcombe Estate
Additional funding for educational benefits is supporting science learning at Gatehouse ACE Academy in Dawlish. Solstice contributed £5,000 from the educational fund to help the school install solar panels on its roof.
“It’s great that Solstice Renewables recognises the important link between their solar farm and educating local young people about renewable energy and biodiversity. The children really enjoyed the school visit and the class teachers intend to use this as part of their continuing work on renewable energy… the children will be able to make visits to the site, which will really bring their learning to life! Solstice Renewables’ contribution to our Solar Schools fund also made an enormous difference.”
Claire Pearce, Gatehouse Primary Deputy Head Teacher
The Ashcombe Estate benefits from sitting within its own bowl largely hidden from the surrounding landscape. Plantation woodlands to the north-east and south provide good natural screening.
The land is predominantly Grade 3b agricultural land and offers good opportunities for biodiversity enhancement. The area around the panels is being sown with wildflower seeds and native grasses to create a haven for wildlife, while sheep will graze around the panels in autumn and winter so it stays in agricultural usage.
The ecological habitats within and adjoining the site have been central to the design process. Opportunities are being created for a range of species, in particular, Nightjar flyway zones and winter foraging areas for farmland birds including Skylarks, with a substantial increase in the amount of managed ecological habitat on the site.
Diversification for Ashcombe
The Ashcombe Estate makes an important contribution to the local economy, with a range of holiday cottages and the Ashcombe Adventure Centre, attracting tens of thousands of tourists to this part of Devon, employing some 50 local people and providing low-cost housing to many local residents. This diversification to its business would help it to invest further in the local economy, helping to make it more environmentally and economically sustainable.
The planning application was well supported by the local community. Teignbridge District Council granted planning consent for the project in November 2014.
The solar farm is now owned and operated by Belltown Power. Both Belltown Power and Solstice Renewables share the same shareholder – Berti Investments, whose mission is to reduce carbon emissions through supporting innovative, entrepreneurial businesses who share their ethics. So the solar farm will effectively be staying in the same ‘family,’ ensuring a consistent approach to working closely with the local community.