Pickles accused of picking on solar sector

The UK's solar farm industry has been dealt another blow following an intervention by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and the reported scrapping of two major solar projects in Suffolk.

The Sunday Telegraph yesterday (8 June) reported that Pickles has rejected planning permission for a 127-acre solar farm Hacheston, while a slightly smaller development in Tattingstone was dismissed by a planning inspector last week.

Pickles said the Hacheson development would have had a ‘major … adverse impact on the landscape’ and that ‘the loss of a substantial area of productive agricultural land for at least 25 years is another negative factor’.

A campaign to halt the nearby Tattingstone project – which would have included over 43,000 solar panels – was led by comedian Griff Rhys Jones, who lives nearby. Rhys Jones told The Telegraph that the area had ‘special landscape value’. “This is not a victory for my backyard, it is a victory for all our backyards,” he said.

Picky Pickles

Pickles added: “We need renewables but we need them to be sited with forethought and care and not random opportunism. There are many suitable places for solar farms but they do not include beautiful countryside and good arable land.”

But Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association (STA), disagrees, claiming that the planning decisions have ‘killed off’ large-scale solar farms. “Pickles is picking on the solar industry,” he said.

The solar sector is already reeling from major changes to the subsidy system. Large-scale solar farms will no longer receive financial support through the Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme as of next April, under new proposals put forward by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) last month.

As reported by edie, the renewable energy industry has been united in its opposing stance to that controversial announcement – especially as it came in stark contrast to recent assurances from Energy Minister Michael Fallon that no further review of the RO scheme was planned.

Solar Independence Day

Meanwhile, several members of the Solar Trade Association will open up their solar farms to visitors from local homes, schools, businesses and community groups across England and Wales on 4 July as part of a nationwide event, Solar Independence Day

The initiative seeks to demonstrate how responsibly developed solar farms are actually improving the local environment and how solar energy is making the UK more independent from the rising costs of polluting fossil fuels imported from overseas.

“There’s a really positive story to be told about how benign, unobtrusive solar farms are quietly reducing our carbon emissions, boosting local biodiversity, helping farmers diversify their income, creating jobs and enhancing the UK’s energy security,” added Barwell.

“We need to tell this story to counter the bad news stories resulting from a tiny minority of poor quality projects seized on gleefully by some newspapers and politicians.”

Luke Nicholls

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