Fears ‘gold rush’ for solar farms will carve up our beautiful landscape and industrialise it

King's Lynn Technologies have installed a new £2m solar array to provide power to its factory. Picture; Matthew Usher. King's Lynn Technologies have installed a new £2m solar array to provide power to its factory. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Thursday, December 13, 2012
12:28 PM

The number of applications to build solar farms on land across the region has increased five-fold, the EDP can reveal today.

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The solar ‘gold rush’ has been sparked by an anticipated 25pc cut in government subsidies for large-scale solar farms completed after April 1, 2013.

Seven councils who responded to an EDP survey said the number of applications they have received has increased from three in 2011 to 16 in 2012, with three-quarters set to be decided in the next few weeks.

On Monday, Breckland councillors will consider three separate applications for Litcham, Hardingham and Narford, while Belaugh Parish Council claims villagers are unanimous in their opposition to plans for 57,000 solar panels near the Norfolk Broads in Hoveton. The plans are due to go before North Norfolk and Broadland district councils in the new year.

Broadland, Breckland and Waveney councils said no plans for solar farms were submitted last year, but they have received two, four and five respectively so far this year.

The number in North Norfolk rose from two to five, while South Norfolk said the only recent application it received was last year. Norfolk County and Norwich City councils said they did not receive any applications in either year.

Belaugh parish meeting is opposing the Hoveton application, and chairman Norman Evans said: “We have a beautiful, glorious, historic open countryside. If these schemes are approved they will carve up our landscape and industrialise it because these applications I have looked at are on prime arable land, some of the best agricultural land in Norfolk.”

He raised concerns that while planning officers had gained experience of wind farms over a number of years, there was not enough guidance to cope with the sudden explosion of solar farm applications.

He said: “On the one hand planners have government policy saying ‘renewables, renewables, renewables’, but on the other hand they have to consider the landscape issues and, because it is two policies pulling in two directions, you can see where the difficulty lies.

“There is not a depth of experience with regard to solar applications. They are working in a vacuum because there is not the guidance coming from central government on how to tackle these applications.”

An application to build a solar farm at a 71-acre site along the Norfolk coast in Thornham was thrown out by West Norfolk Council last week.

The five-fold increase in the number of planning applications has been largely driven by renewable energy firms hoping to take advantage of government subsidies ahead of an expected 25pc cut in April 2013.

The government is considering the results of a consultation on reducing the value of renewable obligations certificates, which it has used to encourage investment in large solar farms since 2002, and a final decision is due shortly.

Richard Pike, chairman of Norwich-based renewable energy company PikeSolar, said the industry viewed the cut “as a severe threat to its potential to maximise this source of abundant renewable energy for the UK”.

The move follows the government’s decision last year to impose a more than 50pc cut on subsidies for solar energy that householders or businesses sell to the National Grid from solar panels installed after April 1 this year.

Dick Wingate, a planning consultant for PikeSolar, said solar farms are better for biodiversity than arable fields, which are ploughed and planted, and provide a better environment for wild plants, insects and animals.

He said: “It is energy production and it’s the same as oil seed rape. I know people who don’t like to see fields of bright yellow. Yes, it’s different, but you get used to different. It’s one of a series of alternative renewable energy sources and it’s an established part of science that these various forms make a contribution. The problem does not come down to are they a good thing. It comes down to are they in the right place and that’s the planning argument.”

The government has a target of 15pc of energy coming from renewables by 2020, and University of East Anglia scientist Keith Tovey said wind and energy were quick and easy to build to help fill an energy gap when nuclear and coal-produced electricity falls in 2015.

He said: “There is a big problem with solar farms in that they cover a large amount of land area which is then precluded from crop farming whereas if you have a wind turbine, there might be a bigger issue of a single point of intrusion but all around can be used for agriculture.”

He said that in some respects wind and solar were complementary, with more solar energy produced in the summer and more wind in the winter.

However, he said in East Anglia onshore wind power operated at an average of 26pc of their maximum capacity, compared to 10-12pc for solar, but the subsidy for solar farms was higher than that for wind.

26 comments

  • T - under your logic, for you sustainable also means heavily in debt! If only you understood not only the laws of physics, but also the financial folly of what you are advocating.

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    andy

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • "He said: “There is a big problem with solar farms in that they cover a large amount of land area which is then precluded from crop farming whereas if you have a wind turbine, there might be a bigger issue of a single point of intrusion but all around can be used for agriculture.” What he didn't say was that solar panels don't work in the dark, wind turbines don't work when its not windy, as, BTW, it hasn't been all week in the coldest week of this winter so far. The ONLY thing any renewable generates is cash, paid for by all Utility bill payers. When will these people stop trying to use their preceived lack of electricity as a means of trying to persuade people that these things are necessary? They are nothing more than robbers, the worst thing is that they also know this.

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    Windless

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • ‘Solar Monkey’ – sounds like a wind up to me? When I get a climate change levy on my bill It will make me think more carefully about how much energy I may be wasting, it will make me more grateful that I can be wasteful and it will make me glad that our days of profligate waste are over and I am making a contribution to a sustainable future for my grandchildren and, hopefully, their grandchildren.

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    Thoreauwasright

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • Well some of the contributers might be missing the point! Solar is inefficient! Would you buy a car that only worked 12% of the time and not when you needed it most! The Feed in tariffs are the only reason that these developers are interested in these large projects and its Joe Public who are paying for the developers to get rich. Every time you see climate change levy on your energy bill hey should send you a thank you note. (or a get well card)!

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    Solar Monkey

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • Surely the rush for planning permission before the April 1 ( how appropriate!) deadline says it all. NONE of these applicants care one tiny bit about producing electricity, they are ONLY concerned about producing cash, paid for by every utility bill payer. This applies to ALL renewables so wind turbines (in particular) are as guilty as this panic for the Solar subsidy cash grabbers.

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    Windless

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • Windless, Windup or whoever you are at the moment. A few thoughts – farming does not exist solely to grow food. Wind, solar, tidal and wave power among others are meant to be PART of a renewable energy MIX, a point you consistently fail to grasp. Carbon emissions are ‘so called’ because they exist and are a contributory factor in climate change.

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    Thoreauwasright

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • T. the irony is that we will all look back on these blots on our beautiful Norfolk landscape in a few years and realise these projects were just "White Elephants." It is not well known that many of the developers are owned by Venture Capital Companies who are in turn funded by the Banks. So it's really only just the latest bank scam which the public are being asked to pay for!

    Report this comment

    Solar Monkey

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • Thoreauiswrong.again Solar panels can be put on more or less any surface which looks upwards, clearly there are ideal angles and directions. therefore they can go on buildings, unuseable land etc. Food cannot be grown on industrial rooftops etc, food is grown on farms. Also, had you looked at www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk this week, you'd have seen a good mix of power going into the grid, Coal, Nuclear, CCGT etc, but virtually no wind. A mix of renewables once again of no use to the UK power generation. Good job we have the others. I expect you'll be rude now!

    Report this comment

    Windless

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • Thoreauwasright - at last we can agree about something! The Norfolk countryside should not be turned over to glass in the name of 'progress'. If the solar industry can find an echonimical way of storing enough of the "Sunny Day" power so we can use it when we need it, I agree there are far better places to hide Solar Panels which don't compromise our heritage. In Germany, where solar power has been pushed more by their Government, there are serious problems emerging from employers groups who say that solar power supply is so irratic that they suffer frequent power cuts! Apparently this may have a knock on to their ability to provide high levels of employment. We should look at the lessons from other Counties before rushing headlong into investment into this inefficient (in our climate) power source. I'm all for sustainablilty. My definition is ensuring that better lives for ourselves, doesn't mean worse lives for future generations! We owe it to future generations to protect the landscape of our beautiful county. Our natural environment is essential to our wellbeing!

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    Solar Monkey

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • g hu A few thoughts..... Farming, you are quite right, does not exist to make the countryside look pretty, it actually exists to grow food. It therefore does not exist to make the countryside look ugly either. It exists to grow food. The only possible reason to put solar farms on useable agricultural land is to make money from subsidies which are being reduced on 1 April. This is unacceptable, farms grow food, end of argument. As to going without electricity altogether, you must accept that the National Grid has to supply the country with electricity, whether it is dark, when there is no solar, or not windy, like right now, when there is no wind "power". As that IS the case, then why have the reneawables at all, all you do is increase the need for proper generation to cover for the failure when they fail, dark or not windy. And BTW, you don't save any fuel or reduce so called carbon emissions.

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    Windless

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • Hi windup. Took a look at the link you mentioned but I think I'll need a training course! Its a pity they don't show solar generation but I guess it's so inefficient it wouldn't short up on any graph!!!

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    Solar Monkey

    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

  • Whatever the merits or otherwise of renewables, "industrialising the landscape" is a pathetic objection. It may come a news to some folk, but all farming is an industry, it doesn't exist to make places look pretty. And of course, these objectors would be happy to have a nuclear waste dump, or a coal-fired power station, on the same site, wouldn't they? or perhaps they could do without electricity altogether.

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    g hu

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • There seems to be a misconception that the purpose of farming is to 'grow', or more correctly to produce food. This is incorrect. Farming is a business. Its purpose is to make money. In part this is achieved through producing food, although this becomes less attractive where big business, e.g. supermarkets, are hell bent on screwing their suppliers. I am thinking particularly about the dairy sector. What aspect of food production do people imagine is served by the swathes of yellow that dominate the landscape every Spring, or the tonnes of sugar beet being moved on the roads currently. Man cannot live on Mars bars alone, or on bioethanol at all. If there is money in food production then food will continue to be produced, but if there's more profit to be 'grown' from solar then so be it.

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    Police Commissioner ???

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • When PIkesolar talks about maximising the source of abundant energy what he really means is maximising the taxpayer subsidy they will claim. We are importing ever more of our food to feed a rapidly expanding population and to use more land for the purpose of solar panels is irresponsible. This is being compounded by building on greenfield sites. As the UEA states, solar panels operate at 10 - 12 % of their installed capacity and have a higher subsidy than wind turbines. It is absolute madness to pursue these expensive constructions which produce most of their power when it is needed least - in the summer.

    Report this comment

    andy

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • MickB1 You may recall that we don't, normally respond to any reference to " Nimby's". I make a rare exception in this case. Any wind turbine capable of even the averaged day, night , output of any reasonable sized solar farm would be huge, indeed, there would have to be tens of them, they really are that useless. therefore they would be, and always will be, opposed, they have no place onshore and are of little use offshore. You really should look at www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk to see the reality of this stupidity. And, I for one, am sick to death of having to pay for the subsidies. In the last week, the UK combined total wind power installed of circa 7Gw managed a miserable 0.4Gw averaged over 3 days, stupidity!! Even I, however, would agree that we should never use useable agricultural land to produce anything other than food. With a world living population of 7,000,000,000 we need food one hell of a lot more than some insignificant (wind or solar) amount of electricity.

    Report this comment

    windup

    Saturday, December 15, 2012

  • Whoops press the submit button twice!

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    Solar Monkey

    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

  • Mr T I quite agree with your comment. Photovoltaic cells are not the most efficient transducers and, to make any noticeable contribution to our renewable energy commitment, must, by their very nature, have a large visual impact however I also agree that there are places where that impact would be less offensive and they do currently (excuse the pun) have a part to play. Monkey, all new technology needs financial support at the R & D and commissioning stage and always has. If this is funded by venture capital and banks then so be it – after all that is their purpose! Windless, without some form of subsidy there would have been no development of what is now conventional technology, farmers would be moaning that they cannot afford to produce food and university research departments would be forced to shut down. If the government is prepared to subsidise investment in renewable technology and I am required to make a contribution I am happy to do so for reasons already stated and finally, andy, sustainable means just that.

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    Thoreauwasright

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • Welcome to Norfolk's first Solar Yurt Holiday Park. We have combined two concepts. Making money from holiday makers (you) and making money from energy (you). The roof of the Solar Yurt will generate enough electric to keep you in the comfort that you can just about afford. We recommend that you bring a pot full of £1 coins to feed the electric meter...it is expensive we know...but please remember it is eco! Yours Gratefully, Eco Yurt Solar Holiday Farms Ltd

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    Rhombus

    Saturday, December 15, 2012

  • Well I would rather see a Windfarm than the Solar Farm because they take up a lot of space. BUT the NIMBY'S put a stop to them....looks like they have shot themselves in the foot with this one.....!

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    MickB1

    Saturday, December 15, 2012

  • Hi windup. Took a look at the link you mentioned but I think I'll need a training course! Its a pity they don't show solar generation but I guess it's so inefficient it wouldn't short up on any graph!!!

    Report this comment

    Solar Monkey

    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

  • T When I get an climate change levy on my bill, it will make me think of all the money I and others less fortunate are having to pay in subsidies to, mostly, already rich landowners, paid by a government which seems unaware of the inefficiency and, frankly, near useless forms or renewable energy they subsidise. It has been said many times on here that if there were no subsidies there would be none of this. The 7Gw (that's Gigawatts, BTW) of presently installed on and offshore wind managed less than 0.5Gw over 3 days this week!

    Report this comment

    Windless

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • Can you sleep under them? We could call them starter homes if we allow a few straw bale walls as well. Cheap electricity on tap for a tv and fridge. Has Norfolk County Council considered this yet in their 10 year housing strategy?

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    Rhombus

    Saturday, December 15, 2012

  • Solar engineers feed on solar panels, they don't need vegetables grown on best grade 2 arable land, hmm that news to me. These schemes are all gone past the initial idea behind the subsidy, these are large operators and land owners feeding on subsidy. The reality should have seen these panels go up on our houses, not in the countryside. Businesses wanting to utilise solar for their own use is fine, they can do this without the subsidy, as they are interested in the electricity, not taxpayers hand out's.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • I'm sure any government decision that would restrict or stop large scale development will not materialise until the current round of applications are safely in the bag, and the landowners (all Tories I shouldn't wonder) are enjoying their multi-million pound paybacks. Thereafter the likes of Bacon and others can show the masses that they have listened to nimbyism and won't stand for any more defiling of the countryside.

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    Police Commissioner ???

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

  • The way this country is going its either 4000 houses on the farm land or solar panels, the land is being developed either way - I for one opt for the solar panels! At least wildlife can make its home around them. As for the future of our green and pleasant land - who knows???

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    outspoken

    Friday, December 14, 2012

  • Find it absolutely amazing that so very few comments are being generated on the subject of covering the country side with close to 200,000 solar panels. Had there been an application for one wind turbine the forum would have been bursting at the seams with anti comments. Why is it people find it acceptable to have these things covering the land? Put them where they belong, on roofs or redundant runways, just a thought.

    Report this comment

    Mr T

    Friday, December 14, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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