UK/East Anglia: Truss attack on solar farms ‘misguided’ says CLA
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Environment secretary Liz Truss has come under fire after hitting out at large-scale solar farms.
The Norfolk MP, who described them as a “blight” on the countryside, has announced plans to axe a subsidy for the schemes, ending grants from her department worth £2million a year
The change, which will come into effect from January 2015, means that farmers who choose to use fields for solar panels will not be eligible for any farm subsidy payments available through the Common Agricultural Policy for that land.
“I do not want to see its productive potential wasted and its appearance blighted by solar farms. Farming is what our farms are for and it is what keeps our landscape beautiful,” she said.
“I am committed to food production in this country and it makes my heart sink to see row upon row of solar panels where once there was a field of wheat or grassland for livestock to graze.”
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Landowners’ organisation the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) agreed that farm subsidies should be removed for land under solar panels, but CLA president Henry Robinson said her comments about solar panels taking land out of food production were “misguided and show a clear lack of understanding”.
“Land in the UK has always been used for more than just food production and must continue to be so. The UK must make better use of unused roof space for solar power but this should not be to the exclusion of ground-mounted systems,” he said.
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“There is no question that the best and most versatile land should be retained for food production wherever possible, and this is safeguarded by both the agricultural and solar industry.”
Mr Robinson said the vital point overlooked by the Environment Secretary is that agricultural activity can continue alongside and underneath solar panels to produce double output of both food and energy, essential in today’s increasing world.
He said: “Solar panels are installations which could be easily removed in 20-25 years time returning the land to its original use. Solar farms can provide a means for farmers to take land out of agricultural production for a number of years and economically return it to full agricultural production again in the future. Sites are also being used to create useful conservation and wildlife habitat areas.”
He added: “We welcome the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) confirmation that areas of a field that do not have panels will still be eligible for the Basic Payments Scheme. This is especially important in ensuring that landowners who only have a few land-based panels are not unfairly penalised. The CLA now calls on the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and DEFRA to ensure that the implementation and mapping process is made as simple as possible and is not an administrative burden.”
Farmers and landowners considering renewable energy projects are being urged to attend an event giving practical advice on the range of available technologies and an opportunity to network with businesses offering professional help.
The CLA’s renewables seminar and exhibition on Wednesday, November 12, (9.30am–1.30pm) at The Granary Estates, Woodditton, near Newmarket, will feature expert speakers and exhibitors.
Staged in association with Santander and Carter Jones, the event costs £15 for CLA members and £30 for non-members. A buffet lunch will be provided.
For further information or to book a place as either a delegate or an exhibitor, call the CLA East regional office on 01638 590429 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.