ARE SOLAR FARMS/PARK A NECESSARY EVIL? Chris Butler
The last few years has seen a proliferation of installations and planning applications for both large
and small scale field solar farms. There are a number of clear reasons why this is occurring; the
government is required to produce 20,000MW of green energy by 2020. This is equivalent to the
electricity generated by two to three nuclear power stations. The government is therefore heavily
subsidising the industry. A recent advert in the Farmers Weekly claimed that an acre of PV panels
would generate £31,000 without risk or labour as against £314 for an acre of wheat.
The main issues concerning solar farms
The best sites for solar farms are an open south facing sloping land. This land is usually visible for
miles around and in general the scale and ‘alien’ appearance of solar farms in the countryside have
an obtrusive impact on the landscape and represent an unwelcome and inappropriate
industrialization. Sites can be screened by trees and hedges but are often still visible in winter.
Many energy companies quote the fact that they are placing their solar farms on less productive
land grade 3 or 4. In a decade of increasing food security problems with the UK only producing
60% of our own food, the loss of any agricultural land is important. An acre of Grade 3 land in the
east of England will produce approximately 5000 loaves of bread per year. These lower grades of
land are also often the best areas of bi-diversity with greater numbers of wildlife and flora.
Is there a solution?
Just recently the large scale solar farms have come under a series of attacks from Conservative
ministers, with planning supremo Eric Pickles overturning permission for another old airfield solar
farm at Ellough in Suffolk, Greg Barker at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc)
signalling a crackdown on “monster solar farms” and his colleague Michael Fallon deriding
subsidies for large solar farms as “immoral”.
Barker at Decc reckons that the big opportunity is on the roofs of commercial and industrial
buildings: putting solar on just 16% of all such buildings would deliver the 20,000MW; Barker
also notes the huge growth in UK solar capacity, from virtually nothing in 2010 to 3,000MW in
2013. Although there are an awful lot of roofs suitable for solar panels it is a very hard market to
move because of the legal complexities of commercial roof ownership and building rules and
current subsidies favour solar farms.
There are also major opportunities for solar panels on residential houses with a third of the
required 20,000MW expected to come from this area, with 500,000 houses with panels already.
Putting panels on industrial buildings and houses has the added advantage of reducing the
electricity bills for both the businesses and home owners.
Solar panels are desirable on factories and house roofs, but not on farmland at unacceptable
cost to the countryside
CPRE is generally opposed in principle to solar farms for the damage they do to the countryside
and landscape, particularly in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and the Green Belt.
We do not consider that the benefit they offer in terms of renewable energy is sufficient to offset
the environmental harm they create or the loss of productive land.
CPRE will support discrete developments on the roofs of commercial and industrial buildings and
houses, and would like to see all new housing built with solar panels.
(Reprinted from Campaign to Protect Rural Essex Papers)