Farmers have urged the successor to Liz Truss as UK Prime Minister to drop plans to ban solar power from most farmland in England, arguing it would harm food security by cutting off a flow of living income.
Truss, who resigned on Thursday, and his environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, hoped to ban solar power on around 41% of England’s land area, or about 58% of farmland, the Guardian revealed this week last.
They planned to do this by reclassifying less productive farmland as “the best and most valuable,” making it more difficult to use for energy infrastructure.
Members of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents 33,000 landowners, told the Guardian that having solar power on their less productive land allowed them to subsidize food production for years less successful, as well as providing cheap electricity for their estates and homes in their area.
Mark Tufnell, the chairman of CLA, grows oats, wheat and barley on his Cotswolds estate. He said: “We have members who say these are temporary sites if need be so they can focus on growing more food on their other land.
“Solar would be on their worst land, and…if that’s what they choose to do, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do it?”
He added that the land was not lost to farming as the stables were easily removed and the area could be grazed with sheep. “There’s no reason the area below can’t be grazed with sheep, but it could also provide very good habitat for farmland birds and increase biodiversity, so help the environment.
“I don’t see that saying with the stroke of a pen that we’re going to exclude this land, I don’t see that helping, and I think it’s unlikely to help food security anyway.”
The real problem with the government’s solar strategy, he said, was the difficulty of putting solar power on rooftops.
Tufnell said: “There are so many things they could be doing that they’re not doing, like encouraging rooftop solar deployment, changing the planning system to allow it. I already have 49kW, and I want to have an additional 100kW on my buildings, but the hardest part is getting an affordable grid connection. They are very slow, the price is incredibly high, and in my case I might have to install a mini substation, which is very expensive.
“What I am trying to do is put solar panels on a building which I am converting into offices and workshops, if there is a surplus I would like to use it for the houses in the village. But it becomes so difficult and expensive that it’s very off-putting, and if I weren’t so persistent I’d frankly think I couldn’t be bothered.
Harry Teacher, a fruit and arable farmer from Kent, has a large solar park on his land, which allows him to generate income when his farm has a bad year.
He said: “We installed a park in 2014, floor mounted panels on frames on approximately 61 acres of land. We are a fruit and arable farm, but we are quite diversified, and any farmer was encouraged to find sources of income other than arable crops, and the solar panels were part of this diversification. For us, it is a source of constant income. This gives our business greater resilience.
The professor doesn’t understand all the fuss, adding: “As a proposition, they are quite easily hidden by a tall hedge. They don’t make noise, there are no moving parts. Carbon is a serious thing that we all have to consider now, solar panels have to be part of it. If the argument is that the land is lost for food – you may know that planning requests for solar farms are made on a temporary basis – ours is a 25 year period. If for some reason we run out of food, which is extraordinarily unlikely, we can rip it all out and return it to agriculture.
“We definitely get more from our solar panels than from agriculture. There’s a visceral reaction people have to any type of greenfield development and it’s more of a reaction to people’s reaction to seeing solar parks – I don’t think it’s a real fear for food production.