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Neath Set to Lead Wales with Ambitious Solar Scheme

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Neath Port Talbot is rapidly taking the lead in the race for renewables.

Not only does the county hold the Welsh record for the highest total renewable energy generation (1122 GWh as of 2019), but it’s also using green technology to drive community development, enabling the local area to benefit enormously from new installations.

Permission is expected to be granted for the Mynydd y Gwrhyd Solar Farm next month, cementing Neath Port Talbot’s reputation as one of the most innovative boroughs in the country. The solar farm, which is adjacent to two existing community wind turbines owned by Awel Coop will, together with the wind farm,  supply the area with a potential yield of 3MW which could power up to 3000 homes.

This state-of-the-art facility will be community owned, with people across the UK offered the option to buy shares in the scheme, with preference given to local people.

The Mynydd y Gwrhyd solar scheme is being driven by Dan McCallum, a force for community-based change within the energy sector. Awarded an MBE for services to community energy in Wales in 2018, McCallum has advised over 50 energy groups in the UK. He is also the co-founder of Awel Aman Tawe, a localised energy charity, and he worked with DECC to help develop the UK’s very first Community Energy Strategy. He is currently working on Egni Coop’s rollout of rooftop solar across Wales – this has now installed over 3MW including such sites as the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales. A short film of the install can be seen here, made by double Bafta-Cymru winner, Mike Harrison.

McCallum’s achievements in this arena are enormous and resonate nationally, but he remains committed to the local democratising impacts of community energy. He states that;

“With Mynydd y Gwhyd solar farm, we want to bring everybody in and make them a part of this incredible success story for the area. We’ve included an education area in the design plans, because it’s important that people of all ages feel the benefit. Essentially, our vision is that the Gwrhyd Mountain where our wind and solar farms are located becomes the beating heart that powers the community and provides economic, educational and wellbeing benefits too. This isn’t energy that is sold to the people, but energy owned by the people, which makes it a force for so much good in the local area.”

Awel Aman Tawe engaged renewable technology specialists Dulas, based in Machynlleth, to design the scheme and to prepare and manage the resulting planning submission. By working with a Welsh company, Egni furthered their ambition to support local business, ensuring that as much revenue and as many skills and benefits are kept in the country as possible.

Dulas was selected for their aligned company mission and values, and for their knowledge of the site. Dulas first worked with Awel Aman Tawe back in 2006, to develop the Awel Coop project adjacent to the proposed Mynydd y Gwyhyd solar farm. The company (also a cooperative) achieved permission for two wind turbines and also designed their positioning on the landscape.

Senior Project Manager Rachel Kennedy has overseen the project, ensuring that the scheme is the biggest and most profitable possible within capacity constraints. She states that;

We’ve been really sensitive to the local area, ensuring that the plans reduce impacts on, and provide better access to common land and that all stakeholder perspectives have been considered. That meticulous process has worked really well – we are hearing so much eagerness from the local community for the development. That’s great because the legacy of getting this in place will last generations.”

Dulas has been the perfect partner to AAT, having focused exclusively on renewables for nearly forty years. The pioneering company managed the first community development back in 2002, and since then, they have remained committed to placing control of energy assets into the hands of local ownership. From Dulas, Michael Phillips writes that, “it’s brilliant timing for local authorities and charitable bodies to drive these initiatives. Energy companies, such as Bulb and Octopus, are lapping up community energy at a local and distribution level, because such energy purchasing obviously reflects well on their operational impacts. And in this way, these community schemes become excellent long-term financial investments for all concerned.”

Planning has now been submitted for Mynydd y Gwyhyd, but AAT, Dulas and the local community are all convinced that the “planning balance is positive”. McCallum states that, “we are optimistic about the result and hope that the local planning office can see the enormous benefit that Mynydd will bring to the area. Once planning is granted, AAT will focus on developing the economic profile of the build, and a Share Offer Document  will be put together and distributed to the people of the surrounding town. It’s certain that we’ve an exciting period ahead of us and we’ll be communicating as much as possible via our website and social media pages.”

A planning decision is expected from NPT Council in September 2020.