Though some in our community do not agree, we at Together4Rutland believe there is a strong argument for saying we are experiencing a global climate crisis. We are only the custodians of the Earth today, and we must consider our children, their children, and the future thereafter.
We are sure that most people agree that we must take action and develop sustainable forms of energy, no more so with rising energy costs from more traditional fossil fuels, etc. Strategically as a country, it is also imperative that we control our future and where we derive power from.
However, not everyone agrees on how this should be achieved. Rutland today is facing applications for large-scale solar farms on agricultural land in our rural communities. Those close to these developments are understandably unhappy to see what is happening to the landscape, but we need to take a step back and have an objective view.
Is sustainable energy the way forward? I hope we can all agree this can be answered yes. With wind, solar, and wave, we have the opportunity to make a real difference.
However, do we need these large-scale developments to make this happen, or is this to allow the operators to create a greater return?
T4R believes that there are better alternatives. These can include
- Government mandating solar on all new builds, both commercial and residential.
- Using existing brownfield sites, and indeed solar was part of the St Georges Barracks included in the now withdrawn Local Plan.
- Positioning these sites along main arterial road and rail routes to avoid damaging our precious landscape and minimising the impact on wildlife and biodiversity
- More appropriate-sized developments are separated from residential properties.
- Better use of the available technology to reduce the size of these developments.
So why are these plans where they are? In essence, it is because they need access to the electricity grid. A large part of any investment is making that connection, and the closer the developer can get to the electricity grid, the lower the cost. It is obvious this is a national project to supply energy, not just to provide for Rutland.
Worryingly, they are using cheap technology from China. There are examples in Kent where UK technology has been used on a much smaller scale to produce the same output, but obviously, costs are higher initially.
Developments on shore delivering more than 50Mw are not determined by local planning authorities like Rutland County Council but by the central government, which automatically removes some of the local democratic involvement.
The National Planning Policy Guidance Paragraph: 013 Reference ID: 5-013-20150327 references the Government’s position to prefer that solar be installed on disused airfields, degraded soil and former industrial sites. This is the model for future solar projects.
“Impacts on the local community, on landscape and consumer bills have to be a real consideration….”
“Local Councils will need to consider making effective use of previously developed land and, where a proposal involves agricultural land, being quite clear this is necessary and that poorer quality land is to be used in preference to land of a higher quality.”
So the key points are:
- Solar cannot deliver power output value for land use
- Large-scale solar farms are useless without battery energy storage plants which do have issues for human health
- They are a poor use productive agricultural land
- There are reported human rights abuses in the production of the panels
- The use of coal-powered energy in their production brings their overall carbon benefits into question
- Little consideration for the end-of-life use of these panels.
Minister for Energy, Clean Growth, and Climate Change said on 22 February 2022, re-emphasising previous government policy.
“The Government recognises the importance of preserving the most productive farmland. Planning guidance is clear: where possible, large solar farms should use previously developed land, and projects should be designed to avoid, mitigate, and where necessary compensate for the impact.”—[Official Report, 22 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 162.]
From an infrastructure point of view, Western Power Distribution and others have a great deal of difficulty in connecting to large solar farms. Solar power should be spread across the community, primarily on brownfield sites and industrial buildings. How many industrial buildings do we have in this country? But very few have solar panels on them. We can have both industrial buildings and solar panels, but we must not keep putting the panels on quality agricultural land.
In summary, we support renewable energy, but in line with government policy, not on productive agricultural land. We need a local and national policy to utilise brownfield sites, use new builds, use less sensitive areas along arterial routes, not in the heart of rural communities, and ruin valuable agricultural land.