ONE of the most powerful solar energy farms in the country could cover nearly 20 acres of disused farmland if a developer gets the go-ahead.

Tommy Tomkins, 69, wants to install enough solar energy panels to power 2,000 homes on his land at Netherhouse Farm, near Waltham Abbey, covering the area of about 20 football pitches.

He said he had looked at existing solar farms in Cornwall and Cambridgeshire when planning the £9 million development and planned to sell the electricity he generates back to the National Grid.

“We need renewable energy in this country,” he said. “It’s all over Europe and as usual, we’re the last to get hold of it.

“The land is wasteland, which is no good for farming.

"It’s renewable energy and it should do very well there, as it’s open space. You still get some energy, even on cloudy days.”

He said solar panels added to homes his building firm had built in London had worked well.

One of the latest solar farms in the country to start producing electricity and also one of the largest, is in Wilburton, Cambridgeshire, and generates enough energy to power 1,200 homes.

The first solar farm to be built in the UK, which started running near the Hendra holiday park in Cornwall this month, is producing enough electricity to power 400 homes.

Mr Tomkins said he had looked at this farm and applications for others in Cornwall and Devon before deciding to apply for his own.

The Corporation of London, which owns the section of Epping Forest bordering the Sewardstone farm, is fighting the plans, claiming the panels would create an eyesore and damage wildlife.

A spokesman said: “It would have adverse consequences for the character of the landscape.

"The land at Netherhouse Farm is a green bridge between the Forest and the Lee Valley Park .

"We believe this development would be inappropriate. For one thing the historic green lanes that have connected the two areas for centuries, such as Blind Lane and Green Lane, run right next to the site.

"The diverse wildlife includes important bird species, which could be affected, such as barn owls, yellowhammers, skylarks and tree pipits, which, in Essex, are now only found here and at one other site."

But Mr Tomkins said the panels would be just under five feet tall and on metal frames, allowing grass to grow beneath them.

“It doesn’t interfere with the natural habitat,” he added. “You can’t see them from anywhere. They’re in a valley.

Mr Tomkins applied for permission to build 41 houses on the farm in 2009 and before that wanted to build a golf course there, but both plans were thrown out by the council.

The district council is expected to decide whether the plans can go ahead in the next few weeks.

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