By Kristy Dorsey

An Ayrshire factory that ranks among Scotland’s biggest individual consumers of electricity is to receive a multi-million-pound green investment as part of its owner’s move to net zero.

A new 42,000-panel solar farm is to be installed across 56 acres of land owned by GSK at its pharmaceutical facility in Irvine. Plans also include the installation of two further 150-metre Enercon wind turbines, taking the total number around the site to four.

When fully operational, the solar farm and wind turbines will produce 45GWh of green electricity annually – enough to power the equivalent of approximately 12,000 homes.

The investment is part of a £50 million package unveiled yesterday at the opening of New York Climate Week by GSK chief executive Emma Walmsley. In addition to the project at Irvine, new solar energy production is also planned for another major GSK manufacturing facility in Oak Hill, New York.

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Furthermore, the pharmaceutical giant is also assessing a new lower greenhouse gas propellant for use in its inhalers. GSK estimates that about 45 per cent of its carbon emissions come from asthma patients using its inhalers, though the new propellant could cut this by as much as 90%.

The Irvine facility produces active ingredients for GSK antibiotics used by patients in more than 140 countries, and accounts for 40% of CO2 emissions from the group’s UK manufacturing operations. It is the most energy intensive operation across the company’s 25 global pharmaceutical supply facilities.

“The production of our life-saving product is a very power-hungry process,” GSK Irvine site director Cammy Mitchell said. “GSK Irvine is now taking its biggest step yet to end its reliance on electricity generated elsewhere.”

The investment is being made possible with the signing of a 20-year agreement to purchase the power from The Farm Energy Company, a Kent-headquartered specialist in large-scale private wire and energy offset projects. Farm Energy is being supported by Lloyds Bank to design, build, finance and operate the facilities.

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“This is a significant milestone for GSK and we are delighted to be making an investment in excess of £40m to realise their renewable energy ambitions which will not only have immediate benefits for the Irvine facility but will also create a legacy for the local community through significant bio-diversity improvements,” Farm Energy managing partner Paul Holmes-Ling said.

“Farm Energy has been pioneering in our approach to combining different technologies in many of our projects. The combination of wind and solar in a large private wire scheme is best suited to GSK’s requirements at the Irvine site, and innovative models like this can show how businesses can reduce costs and achieve net zero goals at the same time.”

Speaking yesterday in New York, Ms Walmsley said: “The science is clear that nature loss and climate change are already harming human health, so we must act now to protect and restore the planet’s health if we are to protect and improve people’s health.

“At New York Climate Week and COP26 later this year, we must redouble our collective efforts to address climate change and nature loss, and that’s why I’m delighted with the new steps we are announcing today, which are a major part of delivering GSK’s commitment to have a net zero impact on climate and net positive impact on nature by 2030.”

Established in 1973, GSK’s Irvine site employs more than 250 people and is a world leader in the manufacture of Clavulanic acid, a key component in the company’s Augmentin rage of antibiotics. Across the world, 68 units of Augmentin are taken every second, treating approximately 135 million patients a year.