Yorkshire Post: Why Yorkshire solar farms are false economy when nuclear power can solve energy security crisis

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post.

SOLAR farms are all the rage. Recent years have seen a major uptick in the number of planning applications submitted to local councils to cover perfectly usable farmland in solar panels.

While climate change is a real and pressing issue, this is a clumsy way of tackling it which will cause a great deal of collateral damage, especially when it comes to food security.

Food prices are rising. Nearly 60 per cent of the British public will feel the pinch and find it significantly more difficult to put food on the table, according to Sue Davies, head of consumer rights and food policy at Which?

More than ever, we must be able to rely on our farming sector to produce as much of the food we need as possible. The more of our farming land we cover with solar panels, the harder that becomes.

As well as the national consequences, this is an issue which affects Yorkshire directly. For example, Harrogate Council has approved a plan for an enormous new 50-hectare solar farm near South Stainley. Its supporters claim it will be able to power up to 15,000 homes.

That might sound like a lot, but when you take the costs into account, its productivity is far too low. At that rate, in order to power all 29 million homes in the UK, we would need to build another 2,000 huge solar farms like the one in Harrogate, covering a total of 100,000 hectares.

This is simply not a viable way to meet Britain’s energy needs.

Too often, local authorities’ desires to get as close as possible to their ambitious net-zero targets results in important concerns not getting the attention they deserve.

As Tim Read put it at a parish meeting about the Harrogate plan: “This development is in the wrong place, of an inappropriate scale and form, and can not comfortably be incorporated into the existing or even enhanced landscape that the applicant has proposed.”

The South Stainley project, run by Elgin Energy, is one of countless similar solar farms at various stages in the planning application process.

At least 17,991 acres of greenfield sites around the country are set to be filled with solar panels under schemes currently in the works.

That is according to the Solar Campaign Alliance, which has emerged from small opposition groups that have popped up across England to oppose solar farms in their local areas. Solar Media, another group, estimates there are around 910 possible solar farm projects in the works in the UK.

The true figure is likely to be higher than the campaigners estimate because not all project details are publicly available. Hampshire alone has seen applications at 28 different sites covering a whopping 3,500 acres since the start of 2020.

One proposed 200-acre solar farm by Enso Energy covers six fields, an area equivalent in size to some 140 football pitches. If planning permission is 
granted for the scheme, it would become the fifth largest solar farm in England, and the largest in England on agricultural land.

Yet, 200 acres is entirely typical of the size of new solar farm planning applications. We are on a slippery slope, propelled by our honourable wish to save the planet but pursuing a misguided path.

Before long, you won’t be able to turn a corner in what used to be the English countryside without seeing an ugly, industrialised solar farm.

Unavoidably, Britain cannot sustain itself on renewable energy and won’t be able to do so for a very long time, no matter how much farmland is taken over by solar panels.

If we want to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, especially Russian oil and gas, we would be much better off investing more in nuclear. The Rolls-Royce mini nuclear reactor is a good start, but it’s nowhere near enough.

Crucially, changing our approach to energy must not come at the cost of the British farming sector. Ukraine and Russia are two of Europe’s biggest crop exporters – the war in Ukraine will only cause food prices to rise even faster. The cost-of-living crisis will worsen, and food insecurity will become an even more critical issue.

Against that backdrop, giving up our farmland to make way for thousands upon thousands of solar panels seems ludicrous. We can still save the planet without punishing British farmers.

Jason Reed is the UK lead at Young Voices and a political commentator. Follow him on Twitter via @JasonReed624.

Conservatives Global: We burn our fingers by rushing to embrace solar power

This article was first published by Conservatives Global.

Where Western countries get their energy from was already shooting up our list of political priorities in 2022, and war breaking out in eastern Europe has only accelerated that trend. With governments desperate to cut themselves off from Russian oil and gas as quickly as possible, and under pressure to reach their ambitious net-zero targets, the debate around renewable sources of energy such as solar power has never been higher up the political agenda.

And yet, the real-life consequences of what it means to rush into renewables does not get the airtime it deserves. In the UK, we are seeing an epidemic of perfectly usable farmland being handed over to renewable energy companies in order to create enormous ‘solar farms’. If local authorities wave through the planning applications, acres and acres of land are set to be covered in solar panels and the British farming sector will be squeezed tighter than it can bear as a result.

Take, for instance, Hampshire. In that county alone, a whopping 3,500 acres has been the subject of new planning applications for solar farms since the start of 2020, across 28 different sites. One such site, a proposed 200-acre solar farm by Enso Energy in six fields on land near Silchester’s Church Lane Farm and Bramley’s Vyne Lodge Farm in Hampshire, is equivalent to 140 football pitches. If planning permission is granted by the twelve members of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Development Control Committee, it would become the fifth largest solar farm in England and the largest in England on agricultural land.

We must think very carefully before blindly endorsing a hurried march into solar energy, for various reasons. For a start, the technology simply is not ready yet for Britain to make the switch to renewable energy. The government’s target is to get all of the UK’s energy entirely from renewable sources by 2035 – even that has been widely criticised as wildly over-optimistic.

Even if we assume the UK will hit these 2035 target, that still leaves us with over a decade where we will rely on fossil fuels to heat our homes. The UK is already suffering a huge cost-of-living crisis, with struggling families left in the awful position of having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children. Against that backdrop, it is a very poor decision to risk artificially making the cost of electricity for households on the breadline even higher still, just so we can have a few more solar panels on British land.

Moreover, before the panels are even installed, there are other enormous environmental problems to keep in mind. For the most part, solar panels are manufactured in China and then shipped to Britain. China has much less regard for reaching net-zero emissions than we do in the West – in fact, they are building more coal mines as we speak, and using that power to produce our solar panels. It is ironic in the extreme that our misguided attempt to be more environmentally friendly in Britain could have a net negative impact on climate change, because we are pouring money into the coffers of the Chinese government, which is then investing in fossil fuels.

Plus, much of the motivation to wean ourselves off oil and gas comes from the need to distance ourselves from Russia because of the way it has conducted itself on the world stage. But is China much better? There is an ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, basic human rights are being trounced in Hong Kong and threats are made to Taiwan on almost a daily basis. When we consider the long-term geopolitical implications, after decoupling itself from Russia at great cost, is it wise for Britain to then transfer its energy needs to China?

As well-intentioned as the drive to ramp up solar power in Britain might be, it has not been properly thought through and there is a danger that very large solar farms will continue being approved under the radar, with little consideration given to the costs. Instead, it is imperative that Britain thinks carefully about its energy needs and plans for the long term, incorporating renewables only in a sensible and sustainable way.

Politics.co.uk: An epidemic of ‘solar farms’ will only worsen food insecurity

Britain is facing an unusual and under-appreciated epidemic: solar farms.

This article was published on Politics.co.uk.

Britain is facing an unusual and under-appreciated epidemic: solar farms. That was the subject of a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, opened by Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith.

Thousands and thousands of acres of arable farmland across the country are set to be covered in solar panels. Local authorities from Harrogate to Hampshire are being flooded with planning applications as renewable energy companies seek to acquire more and more land to fill with solar panels.

The sheer number of solar farm developments cropping up around the country is quite alarming. There are now 910 possible solar farm projects in the pipeline in the UK, with numbers increasing by about a third in 2021. More than 300 have already submitted planning applications or have already been approved. And that’s a cause for concern.

Take, for example, the case of Bramley and Silchester in Hampshire. Plenty of land there is currently used for food production. It is listed as Grades 1 and 2, officially categorising it as highly productive farmland. And yet, a firm called Enso Energy is pushing for 200 acres across six fields to be converted into yet another enormous solar farm.

The area, encompassing Silchester’s Church Lane Farm and Bramley’s Vyne Lodge Farm, is equivalent to 140 football pitches. If planning permission is granted by the twelve members of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Development Control Committee, it would become the fifth largest solar farm in England and the largest in England on agricultural land.

Where so often politics has a problem with short-sightedness – focussing on the immediate consequences of a policy, to the detriment of the longer-term implications – in this case, the issue is reversed.

Pushing through solar farms is long-sighted. It envisions a future in which solar power technology has been developed and innovated to such a degree that it has begun to supersede fossil fuels, freeing us from the troubling geopolitics of oil and gas imports and bringing us much closer to net-zero carbon emissions.

That may well be part of our long-term future, but even the most determined renewable energy advocates do not claim we are there yet. Right now, the technology that would be required to create and store enough electricity to power Britain from renewable sources only would be eye-wateringly expensive and logistically impossible.

We must stop acting as if we could switch the National Grid to renewable power sources tomorrow if only we were determined enough. We cannot. However much we might not like it, we will be relying on fossil fuels to keep our homes warm for the foreseeable future. The government’s target is to make the switch to renewable energy sources by 2035 – and even that has been decried by many as wildly over-optimistic.

Why, then, are we voluntarily giving up vast swathes of perfectly usable farmland in the name of solar power? As well as failing to stop climate change, it will worsen food insecurity.

Food prices are heading through the roof anyway. Thanks to a combination of supply chain issues, inflation and the growing cost of gas, prices on supermarket shelves are climbing ever higher. To make things worse, Ukraine and Russia are two of Europe’s biggest crop exporters.

That will, of course, have a significant effect on the price of food in this country, and bring about plenty of production delays and import jams too for basic foodstuffs in Britain. Those new issues caused by the war will come on top of the existing problem of food insecurity and the detrimental effects of the cost-of-living crisis.

More than ever, it is becoming clear that we must have the British farming sector available as a crutch for our food needs. That doesn’t mean becoming entirely self-sufficient and cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world – but it does mean having as much of a safety net as possible, so that war breaking out on the other side of the world does not result in struggling families in this country suddenly being unable to put food on the table.

It is irresponsible that we should be giving up so much of our farmland in the name of a well-intentioned but doomed-to-fail attempt at saving the planet. Solar farms will worsen the food insecurity crisis and nothing more.

1828: Opposing solar farms isn’t Nimbyism – it’s energy realism

There is at least one type of development which local authorities would do very well to resist: solar farms.

This article was published on 1828.

I’m 21 years old. I would like to be able to afford to buy a house one day. So, inevitably, I deplore Nimbyism. As I have written on this site before, the scourge of local councils blocking new developments, leading to house prices continuing to skyrocket, is outrageous, and my generation are suffering the consequences.

Having said all that, there is at least one type of development which local authorities would do very well to resist: solar farms.

There is a new trend of applications for planning permission to convert huge swathes of British farmland into so-called ‘solar farms’. Effectively, perfectly farmable land is set to be covered with thousands and thousands of solar panels.

Some areas are seeing more solar farm planning applications than others, but the phenomenon is widespread across the country. In Hampshire alone – a particularly hard-hit county – there have been no less than 28 different sites subjecting to solar farm applications since the start of 2020, covering a whopping 3,500 acres.

One proposed 200-acre solar farm by Enso Energy across six fields on land near Silchester’s Church Lane Farm and Bramley’s Vyne Lodge Farm in Hampshire is equivalent to 140 football pitches. If planning permission is granted by the twelve members of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Development Control Committee, it would become the fifth largest solar farm in England and the largest in England on agricultural land.

But it probably wouldn’t hold that record for long, because of the sheer volume of solar farms, many of them enormous, which seem to be in the works around the country. Before long, the UK will be one giant solar panel visible from space.

Renewable energy may be our long-term future, but for now, it is simply not viable. The technology just isn’t there yet. Switching our grid to renewable power sources now would, if it were possible, be ruinously expensive.

At a time when our energy bills are already skyrocketing at an alarming and painful pace, the last thing we need to be doing is switching to even more costly methods of creating and storing power. Instead, let’s allow the technology to innovate behind the scenes and come back to it when it is scalable and ready for use.

In the meantime, it ought to be crystal clear that as much as we might like to turn off the fossil fuels tap tomorrow, we can’t. The choice we face is not between natural gas and renewable energy. Instead, we must choose between Russian gas and British gas. The pressure on the government to get fracking will only grow. It’s common sense.

Nuclear power is also a key part of the answer to our energy woes. The recent long-awaited approval for the Rolls-Royce mini reactor is a good start, but it goes nowhere near far enough. If we are serious about detaching our energy needs from Russia and moving away from fossil fuels altogether, we cannot do it without nuclear.

If our threats against Russia are to be credible – if we want Putin to believe that our economic sanctions and decoupling from Russian exports is our long-term plan, not just a flash in the pan – then we must be serious and realistic about our energy needs.

Even solar power’s most ardent proponents cannot credibly argue that it is the solution to keeping our homes warm any time in the foreseeable future. Let’s stop giving up acres and acres of our farmland chasing a pipe dream.