Massive solar farm is planned for the heart of Thomas Hardy country in Dorset

Massive solar farm is planned for the heart of Thomas Hardy country – where electricity pylons have only just been felled in £116m scheme because they were spoiling the view

  • The proposed 1,400-acre site at Chickerell, Dorset, is in an area of outstanding natural beauty
  • The proposal that will allegedly power town of Weymouth has been made by energy firm Statera 
  • Plans come after £116million was spent in a world-first scheme to pull down pylons in the area 

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Conservationists are dismayed at plans for a huge solar farm where millions of pounds have just been spent felling electricity pylons because they were ruining the landscape.

The proposed 1,400-acre site at Chickerell, Dorset, is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, lying between Dorchester and the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast.

Views of the ‘beauty and splendor’ of the countryside from the iconic Hardy monument will be completely transformed by the carpet of black panels.

The proposal has been made by London-based energy firm Statera who say the electricity produced by the £300m farm will be enough to power the nearby town of Weymouth.

Dorset Council has declared a ‘climate emergency’ and has vowed for the county to be carbon neutral by 2040 and the scheme would help towards that goal.

But the plans have been slammed by residents, countryside campaigners and the Hardy Society. The landscape under threat inspired Wessex author Thomas Hardy in his writings.

They come after £116million was spent in a world-first scheme to pull down pylons in the area and instead bury the pylons underground. 

Around 60 miles of underground cables have been buried 3ft below ground to replace the 120ft structures. 

Conservationists are dismayed at plans for a huge solar farm where millions of pounds have just been spent felling electricity pylons because they were ruining the landscape. The proposed site at Chickerell, Dorset, is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, lying between Dorchester and the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Above: View from the air looking north across the Chickerell electricity sub-station where there is a proposal by Statera Energy Limited

Conservationists are dismayed at plans for a huge solar farm where millions of pounds have just been spent felling electricity pylons because they were ruining the landscape. The proposed site at Chickerell, Dorset, is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, lying between Dorchester and the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Above: View from the air looking north across the Chickerell electricity sub-station where there is a proposal by Statera Energy Limited

They come after £116million was spent in a world-first scheme to pull down pylons in the area and instead bury the pylons underground. Around 60 miles of underground cables have been buried 3ft below ground to replace the 120ft structures

They come after £116million was spent in a world-first scheme to pull down pylons in the area and instead bury the pylons underground. Around 60 miles of underground cables have been buried 3ft below ground to replace the 120ft structures

The masterplan of the proposal area by Statera Energy. Dorset Council has declared a 'climate emergency' and has vowed for the county to be carbon neutral by 2040 and the scheme would help towards that goal

The masterplan of the proposal area by Statera Energy. Dorset Council has declared a ‘climate emergency’ and has vowed for the county to be carbon neutral by 2040 and the scheme would help towards that goal

The plans have been slammed by residents, countryside campaigners and the Hardy Society. The landscape under threat inspired Wessex author Thomas Hardy in his writings. Pictured: A map shows the proposed plans for a solar farm despite millions of pounds having just been spent felling electricity pylons because they were ruining the landscape

The plans have been slammed by residents, countryside campaigners and the Hardy Society. The landscape under threat inspired Wessex author Thomas Hardy in his writings. Pictured: A map shows the proposed plans for a solar farm despite millions of pounds having just been spent felling electricity pylons because they were ruining the landscape

Speaking of the solar farm project, Guy Dickinson, the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) spokesperson for Dorset, said: ‘I can’t believe it. 

‘This plan is right where millions of pounds were just spent improving the landscape by bringing down over 20 electricity pylons and miles of cables.

‘How anyone can think that it would be okay to build such a huge solar farm in protected land is beyond me.

‘The thing that really makes me angry is that no houses nearby have solar panels on their roofs, that would be a far better alternative to this plan.

‘This has to be stopped.’

Tony Fincham, vice president of the Hardy Society, said: ‘The Hardy Society would be wholly opposed to such a development in an environmentally sensitive place of Hardy’s Wessex.

‘Chickerell is surrounded to the north, west and south by the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and to the south-east and east lies the sea, Weymouth (Hardy’s Budmouth) and Portland (Hardy’s Isle of Slingers).

‘This landscape is central to much of Hardy’s poetry and fiction – it must be preserved to safeguard his literary heritage.

‘The views both to and from the South Dorset Ridgeway will be spoilt by this proposed development.

‘The nearby Jurassic Coast is yet another reason why this plan would be wholly irresponsible.

A map of the proposal area by Statera Energy Limited to build a huge 1,300 acre solar farm (in red) and 57 acre battery storage facility (in purple) near Chickerell at Weymouth in Dorset

A map of the proposal area by Statera Energy Limited to build a huge 1,300 acre solar farm (in red) and 57 acre battery storage facility (in purple) near Chickerell at Weymouth in Dorset

A pylon being taken down in September. Around 60 miles of underground cables have been buried 3ft below ground to replace the 120ft structures

A pylon being taken down in September. Around 60 miles of underground cables have been buried 3ft below ground to replace the 120ft structures

‘Hopefully, Dorset Council will see sense again and not allow the beauty, the splendor and the wonder of this coastline to be destroyed.

‘After tens of thousands of pounds have been spent removing electricity pylons to restore the local landscape, it is supreme folly to consider yet another solar farm here.’

The CPRE is urging the government to install solar panels on the roofs of houses up and down the UK rather than carpet the countryside with them.

But a spokesperson for Statera said: ‘There is simply not enough roof space even if it was practical to deploy it on all buildings.

‘It is exceptionally rare for solar to be deployed on brownfield land as there is always a more suitable and valuable use for this land for residential, commercial and industrial development.

‘By not bringing forward sites like this one, we put at risk our chances of securing the low carbon future we need and tackling climate change.

‘There is no doubt that what is proposed is a change to the landscape but our view is that in balance it’s an acceptable one and its impacts can be mitigated.’

Robert Lasseter is a local farmer and land owner involved in the Chickerell Solar Farm. 

He said: ‘We are really struggling to get any money farming at the moment, we are haemoraging cash.

‘Before the pandemic we were being approached by around 20 energy companies a week.

‘This area of land gets the most sun in all of the UK so it’s a no-brainer to put a solar farm here.

‘The UK desperately needs more renewable energy and this is a great opportunity to get a reliable source of it.’

A public consultation event will be taking place before a planning application for the solar farm is submitted to Dorset Council.

View towards Weymouth and Portland from Hardy Monument near Portesham in Dorset across the fields where there is a proposal by Statera Energy Limited, who are seeking planning permission to build a huge 1,300 acre solar farm

View towards Weymouth and Portland from Hardy Monument near Portesham in Dorset across the fields where there is a proposal by Statera Energy Limited, who are seeking planning permission to build a huge 1,300 acre solar farm

The plans have been slammed by residents, countryside campaigners and the Hardy Society. The landscape under threat inspired Wessex author Thomas Hardy in his writings. Above: A view of an existing solar farm near the proposed site

The plans have been slammed by residents, countryside campaigners and the Hardy Society. The landscape under threat inspired Wessex author Thomas Hardy in his writings. Above: A view of an existing solar farm near the proposed site

Wessex Heights by Thomas Hardy, December 1896 

There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand

For thinking, dreaming, dying on, and at crises when I stand, 

Say, on Ingpen Beacon eastward, or on Wylls-Neck westwardly, 

I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be. 

 

In the lowlands I have no comrade, not even the lone man’s friend – 

Her who suffereth long and is kind; accepts what he is too weak to mend: 

Down there they are dubious and askance; there nobody thinks as I, 

But mind-chains do not clank where one’s next neighbour is the sky. 

 

In the towns I am tracked by phantoms having weird detective ways – 

Shadows of beings who fellowed with myself of earlier days: 

They hang about at places, and they say harsh heavy things – 

Men with a wintry sneer, and women with tart disparagings.

 

Down there I seem to be false to myself, my simple self that was, 

And is not now, and I see him watching, wondering what crass cause 

Can have merged him into such a strange continuator as this, 

Who yet has something in common with himself, my chrysalis.

 

I cannot go to the great grey Plain; there’s a figure against the moon, 

Nobody sees it but I, and it makes my breast beat out of tune; 

I cannot go to the tall-spired town, being barred by the forms now passed 

For everybody but me, in whose long vision they stand there fast. 

 

There’s a ghost at Yell’ham Bottom chiding loud at the fall of the night, 

There’s a ghost in Froom-side Vale, thin lipped and vague, in a shroud of white, 

There is one in the railway-train whenever I do not want it near, 

I see its profile against the pane, saying what I would not hear. 

 

As for one rare fair woman, I am now but a thought of hers, 

I enter her mind and another thought succeeds me that she prefers; 

Yet my love for her in its fulness she herself even did not know; 

Well, time cures hearts of tenderness, and now I can let her go. 

 

So I am found on Ingpen Beacon, or on Wylls-Neck to the west, 

Or else on homely Bulbarrow, or little Pilsdon Crest,

Where men have never cared to haunt, nor women have walked with me, 

And ghosts then keep their distance; and I know some liberty. 

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