A leading young Angus farmer has received the green light for a solar scheme to help combat an electricity bill which has rocketed by almost £200,000.
Matthew Steel’s ground-mounted array will deliver around 6.5 megawatts of power from 10,800 solar panels covering just over eight hectares at Craignathro, south of Forfar.
It will sit in the shadow of the town’s Balmashanner war memorial.
But council planners said the solar scheme wouldn’t have an unacceptable impact on the landscape around ‘Bummie’.
And one councillor described it as one of the best solar farm schemes to come before the authority.
Mr Steel is chairman of NFU Scotland’s next generation committee.
He laid bare spiralling energy costs which have hit the family-run operation.
“We’re an energy intensive business for things like potato cold storage,” he said.
“Our current generation in the form of a wind turbine and roof-mounted solar panels only accounts for around 25% of our energy usage.
“We are buying electricity, through sheer bad luck, at the rate of 53p per kilowatt hour.
“It is really hurting us.
“We have to have robust conversations with our customers (including major supermarkets) as to why we need more money for what we are producing.”
He revealed escalating prices impacted by factors including the Ukraine war have hit the farm’s energy bill to the tune of £180,000.
Mr Steel told councillors he recently travelled to the war-turn country in an Angus-led Pick-ups for Peace initiative.
“This development is key for us so we can manage these costs,” he added.
“Electricity is one of our biggest costs.
“If we can take more of that into our own control by the likes of solar it is vital to our business.”
The solar array will sit on both sides of the unclassified road which runs past Craignathro.
Part of it will be beside a popular part of Forfar’s core path around Bummie.
There has been widespread community opposition to other solar arrays which are either completed, consented or in the planning system.
Critics say the the loss of prime agricultural land for solar schemes is unacceptable.
But the committee heard the current amount of prime farmland in Angus consented for renewable energy production is around 0.8% of the available total.
There were six letters of objection to the Craignathro plan.
Those included one from neighbouring Lour Farms over the possible impact on its listed Balmashanner House property.
The 18th century farmhouse is within a couple of hundred metres of the solar site and is being developed as a holiday let in a farm deiversification project.
The applicant said they would work with the neighbour to put in planting which might help screen the solar panels.
Brechin and Edzell Conservative councillor Gavin Nicol said: “I do have some concerns about solar farms taking up prime agricultural ground.
“But this development I think is one of the best that has been put in front of us.”
Montrose SNP councillor Kenny Braes said: “I support this entirely.
“The countryside changes with the times.
“I don’t think there is any real issue with Balmashanner House at all.
“They will still have a fantastic view that an awful lot of people would give their eye teeth for.
“It might not be the same view as they have just now but it certainly doesn’t make it a poor place to live.”
He added: “It takes up a very small percentage of his land compared to what used to be needed to produce energy to produce food.
“If you compare it to the vast tracts of Scotland used to produce a bit of sporting fun for a very few people and a few tonnes of grouse meat per year I think we tend to look at these things with completely the wrong perspective.”
SNP colleague Bill Duff added: “I think it is really encouraging to see a local business making these sort of developments.
“I think it’s also interesting to get an insight into the economics of the business and why it becomes a necessity.”
Councillors unanimously approved the application.