THE return of sunny weather has been an added bonus for the launch of the UK’s first solar-powered business park — Howbery Business Park near Wallingford.

More than 3,000 solar panels have been installed there and in Monday’s sunshine generated enough electricity to power the entire site.

The installation was developed at a cost of more than £2m by water and environmental consultancy HR Wallingford, which employs 250 staff at Kestrel House.

Chief executive John Ormston said: “We use power generated by the panels on the park during the day, and then in the evenings and at weekends it is exported to the National Grid.

“The recent good weather has meant we have been able to power the entire park using solar electricity and through the course of the year, we expect to produce more than 25 per cent of our needs.”

Mr Ormston reckons the investment will be paid for in five to seven years, thanks to the Government’s Feed In Tariffs, reimbursing providers with 31p a unit for electricity.

That system will change from August 1, with the rate reduced by the Government, and that means further solar parks are unlikely to be developed in the near future, according to Mr Ormston.

He added: “The reduction in the tariff will have a detrimental effect on businesses, schools and local authorities using solar power.

“Larger-scale solar parks will be put on hold until the price of the panels comes down, but I don’t think you can put a price on the environment.”

It is estimated that more than 350 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will be cut in a year at the park, which houses almost 1,000 staff in 20 different organisations.

While Howbery Park is the first solar park in the UK to go live, others are in the pipeline in Oxfordshire.

A 5,600-panel farm at Shipton-under-Wychwood was given the green light by West Oxfordshire District Council in May.

And work is under way on enough panels to power 1,000 homes on a 30-acre site at Westmill Farm, Watchfield.

Construction of the Howbery Park installation started in May and was completed last week by solar specialist Solarcentury.

Solarcentury chief executive Derry Newman said: “The solar system at Howbery Business Park provides a glimpse of how this technology can contribute to our clean energy future.

“It is the fastest growing energy technology in the world, simply because it is clean, reliable and a readily available alternative to fossil fuels.”