Taking environmental responsibility for Octopus generation sites

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Our generation arm Octopus Energy Generation is one of Europe’s largest investors in solar power. We look after 300 UK renewables sites around Europe, half across England, Scotland and Wales, many on farmland.

We’re true believers that renewable power can coexist comfortably with grazing animals, plants and areas of beauty — powering our world cleanly while keeping local environments happy and healthy too.

Last week we found out one of our solar sites wasn't looked after in a way consistent with our usual careful environmental standards. Though this happened at just one out of the 300 sites we manage, it's not acceptable, and we visited the site over the bank holiday weekend to start to remedy the situation.

As one of the UK's largest operators of renewable generation, we've got a responsibility to make sure our sites are working safely and effectively. That's a legal obligation, as well as a moral one: and part of it involves occasionally finding local agricultural contractors to weed around our solar panels to make sure plants aren’t growing so high as to shade the panels or interfere with the electrical equipment on site, Last week, we discovered that a contractor that we chose made a mistake while managing one of our solar sites, Hill End Farm.

We briefed them to use a really precise spraying method to make sure that the weedkiller was only applied where it absolutely had to be, limiting any impact on the solar farm’s wildflower population. Sadly, our instructions weren't followed, and a wider area was sprayed by mistake which resulted in some wildflowers needlessly dying.

We're really sorry about this as we’re really proud of our approach to encouraging biodiversity where our turbines and solar panels are. It's not always easy, as solar farms are bound by various regulations (such as needing to control weeds, and returning the land after use to how we found it), but we’ve written about what we do at length before on our blog: “Making green energy greener”. As soon as we found out we’d actually inadvertently damaged some of the local flora, we sprung into action.

Over the bank holiday weekend, two people from OE Generation (including one of our Directors) visited Hill End Farm to take a look at the damage. We brought a wildflower expert along too to advise on how we could repair the damage to the local flora. Now, we’re working with the landowner and local experts to make things right at Hill End Farm – nurturing the impacted area, with reseeding where appropriate to ensure years of flourishing meadow in the future, and we're keen to discuss with the landowner on how we can go even further.

To make sure this never happens again at any of our sites, we’ve also immediately created a specialist team to oversee the impact of all our generation sites and ensure the effectiveness of all our on-site biodiversity projects too. As part of this, any third party suppliers we use to manage our sites (for example land agents, or agricultural contractors) will only join a project after making a formal commitment that the land must remain nurtured and maintained to its original use – meaning it stays as nature intended, bar any minimal weeding required to make sure the solar panels operate safely and effectively.

What happened at Hill End Farm could sadly have happened with any management of agricultural land, where mistakes with herbicides aren't uncommon – but my team have sprung into action this weekend because I'm deadly serious about the the impact I want our generators to have. I want to offer my sincere and heartfelt apology that we destroyed this biodiverse meadow, and I want to extend a promise: in the future, we'll take even more care to ensure that the tools powering our world on Zero Carbon power are doing so with complete and total respect for local environments.

Published on 2nd May 2022 by:

image of Zoisa North-Bond

Zoisa North-Bond

CEO of Octopus Energy Generation and Octopus Energy for Business

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!