The UK government is preparing to introduce guidelines to govern the development of large scale solar farms amid fears the British countryside is being scarred by irresponsible installations.
Details emerged following a debate in parliament called by Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP for the scenic seat of Totnes, Devon, in the south west of the country.
Wollaston outlined concerns about the visual impact of large-scale solar farms which are appearing as hard-pressed farmers try to diversify their businesses. Critics of large-scale solar development also point out such schemes remove agricultural land from use.
UK trade body the Solar Trade Association (STA) is drawing up 10 commitments to responsible planning and development of solar farms with its members but warned it may not be enough, with the UK government planning further restrictions.
A spokesman for the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) told pv magazine it is working on ‘sustainability criteria’ for solar developments with details to be released ‘in due course’ and with the department’s solar strategy to be released ‘in the autumn.’
In a press release announcing the formation of its sustainability commitments, the STA claimed the Department For Communities and Local Government is also preparing to define ‘acceptable standards’ for solar farms. The department was unable to confirm or deny this is the case.
The STA says the problem lies with a solar policy that fails to sufficiently reward small and mid-size installations, leading to a focus on large-scale schemes.
Leonie Greene, STA’s head of external communications, said: "We’d all like to see more roof-mounted, community and mid-sized schemes and that came over loud and clear in the (parliamentary) debate. But the fact is the UK FIT scheme is failing these important applications. If that’s what the minister and MPs want to see and they say they do that situation must now also be addressed."
Minister for energy and climate change Greg Barker said in recent speech to a conference on large scale solar held in Cornwall, the push to encourage renewables would not come at any price.
Solar must not be installed ‘at any price’
He said: "Solar is a genuinely exciting energy of the future, it is coming of age and we want to see a lot, lot more. But not at any cost, not in any place, not if it rides roughshod over the views of local communities.
"As we take solar to the next level, we must be thoughtful, sensitive to public opinion, and mindful of the wider environmental and visual impacts. This means it must work for local communities, with sensible, sustainable design of new projects. And for larger deployments, brownfield land should always be preferred."
In the speech he warned against over incentivizing large-scale schemes in inappropriate locations and called for non-brownfield projects to be based only in low grade agricultural land and in such a way as to permit grazing. He called for communities to be involved in solar planning and for visual impact fears to be taken into account.