2010 saw a “gold rush” of interest in large scale solar farms fuelled by the government’s Feed-in Tariff subsidy. However, this was short-lived with relatively few projects becoming a reality across the UK. Thrings have been closely involved in a number of sites across the South-West.
In one particular case in Wiltshire, early discussions with our clients’ land agent led to significant changes in the initial heads of terms. The legal documents were negotiated in the light of continued use of the site as a working farm, for example in dealing with access to fields beyond the project site.
As part of Thrings’ whole-farm approach, we liaised with our clients’ bank to release the proposed solar farm site from an existing mortgage as well as working closely with their accountant to ensure that the deal was structured in a tax efficient way. We then dealt with the transfer of this site into the joint names of the family farming partnership, who will now benefit from the new rental income. Splitting ownership of the solar farm site from the rest of the farm (over which access and cables still need to run) is one example of how site specific needs triggered bespoke amendments to the main Option and Lease documents.
The first option agreement was exchanged in Spring 2011 and the solar energy company quickly proceeded with their planning application. In the changing climate of reducing government support, the option agreement was then urgently re-negotiated to facilitate a small “Phase One” of the project. A 100kW installation was completed by the government’s initial 1st August 2011 deadline. The electricity from these first panels was connected to our clients’ existing poultry business. This gave the dual benefit of avoiding the need for the solar energy company to obtain a connection to the national grid before 1st August and providing our clients with a secure and cheap source of electricity.
Following this, we have negotiated tri-partite documentation with the local electricity operator and the solar energy company for a new substation and related cables which connect the electricity from the full 5MW site to the national grid.
After 12 months of negotiating and drafting 13 legal documents involving 4 other legal teams, our clients have granted a new lease over more than 30 acres of land which should secure a reliable income for the farm for the next 30 years, and a new source of green energy for Wiltshire.