Thursday , February 22 2024

The problem with lucrative solar farms

This article was first published here.

THE pursuit of ‘clean energy’ is high on the political agenda, but the real-world implications of what it means to rush into renewables are rarely considered. Across the country, there has been a recent surge in the conversion of productive farmland to massive ‘solar farms’ by renewable energy companies.

Fuelling this trend are substantial financial incentives. ‘Are you ready to maximise income from your land?’ blares a website encouraging landowners to sign up to the solar revolution. ‘Lease your land for a solar farm today. Get in touch and we can make it happen.’

‘Your land is more valuable than ever,’ declares another, promising ‘consistent revenue, hassle-free process and sustainability.’ For squeezed landowners, it’s an offer that’s hard to refuse. When profits in farming are low, few can afford to turn down the offer of reliable income from their land for very little work.

Such generous offers are only possible because of the vast amounts of money flooding into the ‘clean energy’ industry. That’s not because investing in solar power is very profitable, but because the market is being distorted by government enthusiasm for all things green. Well over £250million of taxpayers’ money has been earmarked for subsidies for renewable energy companies, and that amount will only grow. That money funds generous grants aimed at nudging us with some ferocity to move away from fossil fuels and begin relying on solar.

The result of this aggressive incentive structure is a flood of planning applications going into local authorities from renewable energy companies aiming to cover huge swathes of land in solar panels. With worrying frequency, that permission is granted. Sizeable chunks of arable farmland and the broader British countryside are signed over to solar, putting a strain on the British farming industry by diverting arable land away from crop production.

Recently, we took another step towards transforming Britain into one giant solar panel when a Hampshire council approved one of the largest solar farms in the country. Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council initially rejected Enso Energy’s scheme close to the important Roman ruins at Silchester. Following an appeal and a promised ‘small reduction’ in the number of panels, the council has U-turned, and the 210-acre project can now go ahead, with a battery park, 16 transformer stations which are 10ft high, and 4.3miles of security fencing.

Despite criticism from almost every direction, the government remains committed to its goal of obtaining 100 per cent of the United Kingdom’s energy from renewable sources by 2035. Even if we thought we could achieve that goal by 2035, we still have more than ten years ahead of us during which we must use fossil fuels to keep our houses warm. There is already a severe cost of living issue in this country. Some low-income families are being put in the terrible situation of having to decide between paying to keep their houses warm and feeding their children. It would be a terrible idea to install additional solar panels in the UK at the risk of driving up energy prices for low-income families. Sadly, that consideration rarely seems to factor into Net Zero calculations.

In any case, even if we were all converts to the merits of solar power, the technology simply doesn’t exist yet to produce, store and distribute enough electricity to power the whole country from solar panels. Also, there are environmental issues must be considered even before the panels are installed. The majority of Britain’s solar panels are produced in China. While we in the West sacrifice everything to get to Net Zero, China is expanding its coal mining industry and exploiting the resulting electricity to manufacture solar panels for export. It is ironic, to say the least, that Britain’s foolish attempts to become greener at any cost might backfire by funding the Chinese government’s investment in fossil resources.

The desire to reduce our reliance on Russian oil and gas is  supposedly a justification for going renewable at any cost. But is China really so much better than Russia? Uyghur Muslims are being systematically exterminated in Xinjiang, fundamental human rights are being violated in Hong Kong, and Taiwan’s fate as an autonomous country free of Beijing’s rule hangs in the balance. Is it prudent for Britain to switch our energy reliance to China after we have expended so much effort and resources to decouple ourselves from Russia?

MPs should be aware of these issues. Last year, a Westminster Hall debate addressed the topic of large solar farms. MPs from various agreed that the unfettered signing over of farmland and countryside to renewable energy companies was worrying because of the damage to British food production and funnelling money to the Chinese Communist Party. Unfortunately they failed to propose any meaningful solutions. Why? Because they also agreed about how vital the quest for Net Zero is and how magnificent and flawless renewable energy always is. The solar farms problem remains unaddressed.

It seems possible, even likely, that local authorities will continue to grant planning permission for giant new solar projects like the Hampshire site, with very little consideration of the costs of the net-zero project. Instead, we must carefully consider our energy requirements and make sensible long-term plans, using renewables only in a responsible and sustainable manner. A judicial review of the Bramley and Silchester solar farm proposal would be a good place to start.

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