Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker, has warned that the UK solar industry must work hard to maintain the public support it currently enjoys.
Addressing delegates at Solar Media’s Large Scale Solar Conference in Truro, Cornwall, Barker said: “Solar is rightly popular. But if we aren’t careful, or if the sector expands inappropriately, that invaluable popular public support will slip through our fingers. We don’t want solar to become a bone of public contention like onshore wind.”
The minister labelled solar “a genuinely exciting energy of the future” and expressed his desire to “see a lot, lot more” installed across the UK. However, Barker urged the industry to be thoughtful of local opinion when choosing sites, stating that solar must not “ride roughshod over the views of local communities”.
The minister’s words had particular resonance with the conference delegates after a group of local campaigners picketed the entrance to the event, expressing their dismay at the number and scale of large-scale solar developments being planned in Cornwall.
Barker added: “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. But if we are smart, and there are plenty of smart people in this sector, there is no reason we can’t do that successfully. Indeed, we have to!
“Solar power consistently rates as the renewable technology with the highest level of public support. DECC’s own public opinion tracker gives it an 82% approval rating.
“We want to keep it that way.”
Phil Mason, Cornwall Council’s head of planning and regeneration, reiterated the minister’s point, stressing the importance of minimising the impact of solar parks on the local environment. Mason noted that there is already a backlash brewing against solar and that industry bad practice was in danger of turning this “minority into a majority”.
In order for the industry to maintain its current popularity, Barker said that solar proposals “must work for local communities, with sensible, sustainable design of new projects. And for larger deployments, brownfield land should always be preferred. In other parts of the country, solar has been installed on disused airfields, degraded soil and former industrial sites. This is the model for future solar projects.
“We will do our best to spread examples of best practice, focusing deployment on buildings and brownfield land – not greenfield.
“Where solar farms are not on brownfield land, you must be looking at low grade agricultural land which works with farmers to allow grazing in parallel with generation, incorporating well thought out visual screening, involving communities in developing projects and bringing them with you – all of these will be vital in creating a sustainable future for large-scale solar PV.”
Speaking to Solar Power Portal after his keynote speech, the minister spoke of the need to stop “irresponsible large-scale developments”: