National Policy Context
Solar farm proposals with a generating capacity of greater than 50MW, under the Planning Act 2008, are classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) requiring a Development Consent Order (DCO). Smaller solar farm proposals with a generating capacity of below 50MW can be determined by the relevant Local Planning Authority (LPA) through the normal planning application process. All solar farm proposals, regardless of their generating capacity will be assessed against relevant national and local planning policies, including National Planning Policy Statements (NPS), National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) and the relevant Local Plan. National policy is broadly supportive of renewable energy technologies, particularly within the context of climate resilience and mitigation, although this must be weighed against other material planning considerations (such as impact on the landscape and local communities).
Neither the NPPF nor the NPS for Energy (EN-1) or Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3) provides specific planning policy on solar powered electricity generation or battery storage. However, the draft NPS for Renewable Energy (EN-3) provides detailed guidance on topics including: siting and design layout, grid connection capacity and infrastructure, land classification, site access, public rights of way, biodiversity and nature conservation, flood risk, landscape and visual impact, glint and glare, heritage assets, and traffic and transport.
NPS for Energy (EN-1) and Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5) should be referred to with regards the connection (at or over 132kV electric lines) of any solar farm into either the local distribution network or the transmission network. Larger solar farms requiring connection to the transmission network will be required to consider its distance from the existing network and supportive infrastructure (e.g. substation), connection voltage and availability of network capacity and other issues identified in EN – 1 and EN-5. Locating solar farms at places with grid connection capacity enables the maximisation of existing grid infrastructure, minimising disruption to the local community, existing infrastructure and the environment and reducing overall costs. Where this is the case, consideration should be given to the cumulative impacts of situating a solar farm in proximity to other energy generating stations and infrastructure.
The NPPF only refers to renewables within the context of planning for climate change but makes no specific reference to solar farms, although it favours sustainable energy systems as long as any impacts are (or can be) made acceptable, and that local planning authorities should approach these as part of a positive strategy for tackling climate change. The NPPF also outlines that many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development in the Green Belt and that these applications would need to demonstrate very special circumstances in order to be approved such as providing wider environmental benefits.
The PPG (Renewable and low carbon energy) provides specific planning guidance relating to large scale ground-mounted solar farms including the need to make effective use of land by focussing large scale solar farms on previously developed and non-agricultural land, provided that it is not of high environmental value.
Page updated: 27/06/2022