Liz Truss’s solar scheme announcement highlights some key concerns, but we mustn’t overstate its importance.
Shining a light on solar subsidies
Last Sunday the new environment secretary Liz Truss announced that ground-based solar installations would not qualify for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies from January 2015. Giving her reasons for the decision, Ms Truss referred to the visual impact of land-based solar farms, as well as the potential impact they can have on food production. We should, she said, be concentrating on rooftop solar installations.
On the face of it, this is an announcement we welcome. CPRE is concerned about applications for solar farms on good quality farmland, or projects that could harm the landscape’s natural beauty. Consistent with our promotion of green energy in the right places, we support sensitively sited solar development.
We also support the government’s aspiration to increase the building of solar panels on the roofs of commercial and public buildings. Significant support for larger rooftop installations would augment green energy production, help us work towards a more balanced energy supply, and protect our treasured landscapes.
Much of the solar industry is working hard to protect high quality agricultural land and enhance biodiversity. While there are certainly still some applications to build solar farms on valuable farmland, the extent to which solar panels are harming productive agricultural land, or removing land which could be used for food production, should not be overstated.
The effect of the announcement on solar scheme viability should also not be overstated, as the Government’s renewable subsidies are much higher than those available through CAP. We want to see solar properly supported by the Government, but also more rigorously planned and optimally sited projects being approved.
While we agree with Defra that roofs should be prioritised for solar panels, the Government must do far more to ensure that this potential is realised. Subsidies for such schemes are available, but non-financial obstacles often get in the way. Minimising the possible constraints of permitted development rights, on which the Government has recently consulted, and increasing incentives for landlords to support rooftop solar are two possible solutions.
Ultimately, we want to work with solar firms and the Government to ensure that much-needed solar schemes can get off the ground.
Find out more
Read our recommendations on better planning for renewable energy to protect the countryside
Download our report: The countryside generation game (4.4MB PDF)