Ministers have vowed to curb the growth of massive solar farms that blight the
countryside, pledging they will not allow it to become “the new onshore
In a solar strategy released on Friday, the Department of Energy and Climate
Change (DECC) said: “We want to move the emphasis for growth away from large
It unveils plans to instead put more solar panels on rooftops of commercial
buildings and to install up to 4 million panels on buildings in the
Government estate, including up to 24,000 schools.
DECC admits that the spread of solar farms has been “much stronger than
anticipated in government modelling” and that this “can have impacts on
It admits that public support for solar is starting to be eroded because some
solar farms have been sited “insensitively” and that solar farms can “have a
negative impact on the rural environment if not well-planned and
The strategy lays bare the extent of the spread of the farms, which are
subsidised through levies on consumer energy bills.
It shows a five-fold expansion in the number of projects over last two years
and a more than eight-fold expansion in the installed capacity as bigger
farms are built.
At the end of March 2012 there were 46 large-scale solar projects, most of
which are solar farms. By the end of February this year that had soared to
184 projects, with a further 48 due to start operating last month alone.
An additional 194 projects have planning permission and are awaiting
construction, which can take as little as eight weeks.
Greg Barker, the energy minister, told the Telegraph : “I’m very clear
that I do not want large scale solar to become the new onshore wind.
“Solar currently enjoys very high support amongst the British public and I
intend to keep it that way by making sure the focus of growth is on
brownfield sites and domestic and industrial roofs, not on greenfield sites
in the country.”
The spread of onshore wind turbines across the countryside, sometimes despite
the opposition of local communities, has outraged Tory backbenchers. Many
have also been concerned about the spread of solar.
Mr Barker said the Government had already introduced tougher planning guidance
to make it harder to build solar farms on greenfield sites and that he had
written to every local authority planner “to reinforce the need for robust
local planning on solar farms”.
The guidance says planners should consider the “visual impact” of the farms
and to listen to “the planning concerns of local communities”.
DECC’s solar strategy says that the higher-than-expected deployment has eaten
into the “finite budget” for renewable energy and that it will therefore be
“necessary for the Government to continue to monitor the overall pipeline of
projects against our ambitions for a diverse mix of renewable technologies
and achieving value for money for consumers”.
Mr Barker said the Government was also introducing new planning guidance
“making it easier for people to put large solar on industrial roof space”.
It will significantly increase the threshold at which planning permission is
required to install solar panels on a warehouse or an industrial park.
The strategy confirmed plans, first
disclosed by the Telegraph in December , to install 1 gigawatt of
solar capacity about 4 million panels on the Government estate.
Mr Barker pledged it would install solar panels on “Ministry of Defence
buildings, schools and hospitals to make sure that not one inch of suitable
Government roof space is wasted”.
In plans unveiled jointly with Michael Gove, the education secretary, Mr
Barker said he wanted to put solar panels on England’s 24,000 schools and
the first installatons would take place “within months”
Solar panel owners receive subsidies paid for through levies on all consumer
energy bills, because the technology is not economically viable in its own
But Mr Barker said the costs were falling and solar was “increasingly the most
cost efficient choice”.
Oliver Hayes, Political Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Investors
will be listening to the mood music of this strategy and hearing more than a
few bum notes.
“While more solar on roofs and in cities and on Government buildings is great,
stymieing well-sited solar farms at the same time just adds to business
uncertainty and risks making our efforts to tackle climate change more
Leonie Greene of the Solar Trade Association said: “The industry shares the
Minister’s concern that solar farms retain strong public support. However,
great care is being taken by leading developers in order to safeguard public
“Solar farms are often invisible, they make no sound and emit no waste or
smell. They can work alongside agriculture and boost British biodiversity.
The Minister shouldn’t over-egg public opposition – indeed our members are
often delighted by the level of local interest and support.
“This is supported by our YouGov (LSE: YOU.L – news) poll of last year which showed solar farms
are the most popular local energy development and far more popular than
Government plans to push shale gas.”
But Dr John Constable of the Renewable Energy Foundation, which campaigns to
curb green energy subsidies, said more greenfield solar farms may still be
built despite Mr Barker’s comments.
“The real problem is the gap between Mr Barker’s well-meaning words and
the direction in which the subsidy schemes are pushing development, which is
towards greenfield sites,” he said.