Solar plant planned for RAF Neatishead

A radar station which used to send beams into the sky is now seeking to harness beams coming from it, in a �8.5m solar energy scheme.

But the Norwich-based company behind the project at RAF Neatishead, which could generate power for 1,000 homes, says it is in a 'race against time' to build the plant before government incentives for renewable energy are withdrawn.

PV Farms has applied for planning permission to build the solar energy farm at the disused military base which was sold for �4m in 2006.

Co-owner Richard Atkins said East Anglia had the potential to become a capital for solar electricity generation over the years but only if government incentives remained in place.

Businesses and individuals currently receive cash incentives for generating renewable energy, but the Department for Energy and Climate Change has announced it will review the scheme this summer.

This could reduce the profitability of solar plants, but any site operational before then would continue to run under the current arrangement.

Mr Atkins added: 'The DECC announcement has thrown a lot of things into total chaos.

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'The tariffs could be withdrawn or amended as early as July 19. We're obviously racing against time to get these in.'

The company is now seeking permission from North Norfolk District Council for the plant.

'I'm looking to turn Neatishead from a weapon of the Cold War into a very useful, productive site,' said Mr Atkins, who lives in Cringleford. 'It's a potential source of business and jobs for the area.'

The equipment would cost �8.5m and have a working life of 25 years.

If planning permission is granted then work could begin in April and the site would be running by the end of June.

A number of buildings remain on the 10.3 hectare site, including a listed R12 radar building and plinths and underground operations block. The existing underground bunker at the site is still using as much as �13,000 each month in electricity to keep it in dry and stable condition.

Under the plans all buildings that are not listed would be demolished, but everything else would be retained and the public given free access.

A museum charting the history of radar remains on the Neatishead site, which is due to reopen on March 26 after a brief closure due to fire safety concerns.

'It's a swords into ploughshares situation,' said Mr Atkins. 'By allowing power to come on to the site the landlord is in a position to maintain a building of historical interest. Some of the power will go into the grid, some will be used by the site, and we will pump some to Neatishead village.'

Solar power was the most benign of renewable energies without the 'intrusiveness of wind turbines', with panels that could be tucked away behind hedges.

The company already has planning consent for two similar schemes in Snetterton and Salhouse.

Chris Starkie of Shaping Norfolk's Future, the county's economic development partnership, said growth across Norfolk was being held up by lack of infrastructure and power problems, including at specific places such as North Walsham.

'Norfolk is well placed to be at the centre of a renewable energy revolution,' he added.