Solar industry must fight back after Julian Brazil’s deplorable concentration camp analogy

During a Devon Council meeting about a proposed solar farm, Liberal Democrat councillor, Julian Brazil, reportedly said the following: “They [solar farms] look horrible, not dissimilar to concentration camps. But we are told by the planning minister to press ahead with these.”

Breathe. Take a moment.

Yes – a democratically elected, functioning (that may be questionable) member of modern society actually compared solar farms to concentration camps.

There are a range of reactions to his choice of words: my initial reaction was to laugh at the absurdity of the statement.

After a while though, the statement really began to eat away at me. What Cllr Brazil said is absurdly offensive. The inexplicable comparison goes far beyond callous, misguided and even ignorant and lands squarely in hate speech territory.

Belittling the systematic genocide of six million people in order to score cheap points over the erection of a solar park is despicable.

I don’t want to waste any more time talking about Cllr Brazil (I’m sure it’s very easy to find his contact details if you wish to express your opinions directly).

But it does serve to illustrate my point: yesterday I was confronted by solar protestors and read that solar parks are like concentration camps.

It appears that solar in the UK has matured to such an extent that it is beginning to tiptoe into the spotlight – for better or worse. And we’d better be prepared.

The industry seems to be hurtling headfirst into an image crisis. While we are all busy congratulating each other and patting ourselves on the back, a number of people have started to notice that we’ve installed 0.5GW of capacity in 2013. Some of these people believe vehemently that solar is not a good thing – especially when it’s on green land near where they live.

The realisation that the UK solar industry needs to present a united, coherent message is beginning to percolate through and take hold. In fact, at yesterday’s Solar Media conference on large-scale solar, there was a lively debate about whether industry should refer to utility-scale solar developments as ‘solar parks’ or ‘solar farms’ (the general consensus was solar farm).

Indeed, Greg Barker’s speech was full of timely warnings. The minister noted that solar is currently the most popular renewable generation technology in the UK – a position it needs to keep if we are going to get anywhere near 20GW by 2020. Let us be clear: public support for solar is crucial, essential even.

What next?

After the battering the solar industry has taken over the last 18 months, it’s hard to begrudge developers zealously reaching for the low-hanging fruit as streams of multi-megawatt proposals hit planners’ desks. But now is the time to start taking a hard look at industry practices. We need all to be singing off the same hymn sheet in order to maintain the momentum that has been so hardly fought for.

In order to do that we need to set some ground rules. A good place to start would be the newly-launched National Solar Centre’s planning guidance document, which looks at how developers can minimise the environmental impacts of solar parks, while considering the wants and needs of the local community.

What often gets overlooked is that solar is genuinely helping the UK cut its carbon emissions. Utility-scale solar parks will help us achieve our environmental goals in an economic manner. It is up to us to ensure that the public understands the need for solar, is sympathetic to well-suited proposals and, most importantly, can enjoy the benefits of solar.