SCOTTISH energy minister Paul Wheelhouse has officially opened the country’s biggest solar farm, which will generate enough electricity to power more than 3,500 homes.

Construction of the 55,000 solar panels on 70 acres of land on the Errol Estate in Perthshire began in January, and the 13MW scheme will generate electricity all year round.

The estate was one of the first locations in Scotland to be identified as a potential solar farm site and Thomas Macmillan, energy director of Savills, promoted the land for development in 2011.

Uncertainty has surrounded the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector because of government cuts, but according to Savills, the Errol project is proof that they work well on a large scale on Scotland’s east coast.

The company – along with developers such as Elgin Energy, the renewables company behind the Errol scheme – is continuing to source other solar sites across Scotland and is aiming to develop those that are financially viable without subsidies.

MacMillan said: “We are delighted to see this project come to fruition, with power now being generated. It has been four years in the making and proves that large-scale solar in Scotland continues to be commercially viable.

“Solar technology has a far greater role to play in Scotland’s energy mix than many people might realise.”

He said the viability of solar schemes had become more challenging because of the Westminster government reducing subsidies, but he expected to see more large-scale projects in the future.

“Due to reducing installation costs, and a climate of support from Scottish Government, we are continuing to see an appetite from developers to take forward new development sites, even with reducing subsidy support from the Westminster government,” he added.

According to Savills Energy, installation costs for solar panels have halved over the last three years. It said the wholesale price of electricity was expected to rise in the longer term, even though we are in the middle of a short-term dip.

The Scottish Government has said it will retain a “grandfathering guarantee” for key policies that support investment in solar farms, despite Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) proposals to end the protection in England and Wales.

Macmillan added: “This announcement came at a crucial time for Errol, and it was instrumental in bringing this project to fruition.”

Wheelhouse said: “This very substantial and impressive project is proof that large-scale solar photovoltaic systems work well on the east coast of Scotland and I am also greatly encouraged that a variety of organisations are continuing to source solar sites across the country, with a view to developing financially viable schemes.

“The Scottish Government is developing a new, overarching energy strategy for Scotland, which means developing a ‘whole systems approach’ considering Scotland’s energy supply and consumption as equal priorities, building a genuinely integrated approach to power, transport and heat, and solar will play an important role within the energy mix.”

Planning consent for the Errol scheme was secured by Elgin Energy, which was also responsible for designing the scheme and grid connection.

Canadian Solar built the farm and is operating the project.

After cutting the ribbon to formally launch the Errol project, Wheelhouse then travelled to Perth, where he spoke to delegates at Scottish Renewables’ Low-Carbon Heat Conference.

He said Scotland was already a world-leader in tackling climate change, with a 38 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, but he added: “However, we have to achieve more and, as the first minister announced last month, we will establish a new and more testing target for 2020 of reducing actual Scottish emissions by at least 50 per cent.

“Our approach to heat, in particular, offers many exciting opportunities – not only helping us to deliver on our climate change ambitions, but also contributing to our efforts to promote growth and tackle inequalities – particularly fuel poverty.” month of May gave solar-panelled homes all their electricity. 18535