Government scraps solar subsidies for farmers

Solar farms on agricultural land could soon be a thing of the past following an announcement from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) that farmers will lose their right to claim subsidies for fields filled with solar panels.

The new plans, which will come into effect from January 2015, will ‘ensure more agricultural land is dedicated to growing crops for food’ and mean that farmers using fields for solar panels will lose payments for that land under Common Agricultural policy (CAP).

The subsidy changes are expected to decelerate the growth of solar farms in the English countryside and Defra claims up to £2m of taxpayers’ money will be saved each year.

Recently appointed Environment Secretary Liz Truss declared that the appearance of English farmland was ‘blighted by solar farms’.

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. That is why I am scrapping farming subsidies for solar fields. Solar panels are best placed on the 250,000 hectares of south facing commercial rooftops where they will not compromise the success of our agricultural industry.”

Industry reaction

The Solar Trade Association (STA) has reacted to the announcement, claiming that the Government has failed to consider how solar and farming can actually go hand in hand.

A report last month by BRE National Solar Centre, in partnership with the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the STA, outlined how conventional agriculture and ground-mounted solar electricity generation can be coupled for the mutual benefit of both.

STA head of external affairs Leonie Greene said: “It is damaging and incorrect for Defra to suggest that solar farms are in conflict with food production. The Government’s own planning guidance makes clear that farming practices should continue on solar farms on green-field land. The industry, working with the National Farmers Union, has been very careful to define good practice to ensure continued agricultural production. Indeed detailed guidance on this is being discussed by the All Party Group for Beef and Lamb in the House of Commons today.

“The land is still available for farming – the solar fixings only take up 5% of the land. As far as farm payments are concerned, solar should really be treated in the same way as orchards or fields with trees, where animals continue to graze the land in between.

“We urge Defra to champion best practice in the solar industry for the benefit of British farmers, our climate and our countryside.”

Solar strategy

Last week, edie reported on a partnership between Solarcentury and Primrose Solar in designing and constructing a solar farm on Grade 4 agricultural land near Portsmouth in Hampshire, in line with one of the STA’s 10 commitments to focus on land which is of lower agricultural quality.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Solarcentury head of public affairs Seb Berry said: “It’s not often that a government press release deliberately sets out to ‘out Daily Mail’ the Daily Mail. But it’s hard to tell the difference in this case. The anti-solar language used is wholly unjustified.

“I do begin to question what is the point of the government’s ‘high level’ departmental/industry solar strategy group if Conservative Ministers in the ‘greenest government ever’ are going to put out statements like that. With over six months to go to the General Election, no doubt we can expect more of the same.”

Lois Vallely

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