The department for environment, food and rural affairs' (Defra) shock announcement that payments under the CAP for land underneath solar farms will cease in the New Year has sent shock waves through the solar industry and agricultural stakeholders alike. Below is a roundup of the most prominent reactions to the news. 

Leonie Greene, Solar Trade Association:

“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 greenfield 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. This means plenty of room for continued agricultural practices such as sheep, geese or chicken farming. 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.

“Solar farms have an important role to play in conserving our countryside. Not only can solar power save huge amounts of greenhouse gases, but solar farms can provide protected spaces for boosting biodiversity, such as wildflowers and bees, as well as providing greater income stability for farmers who face increasing weather risk due to climate change. We urge Defra to champion best practice in the solar industry for the benefit of British farmers, our climate and our countryside.”

Henry Robinson, Country Landowners and Business Association

“Ms Truss’s comments about solar panels taking land out of food production are misguided and show a clear lack of understanding. Land in the UK has always been used for more than just food production and must continue to be so. The UK must make better use of unused roof space for solar power but this should not be to the exclusion of ground-mounted systems.

“There is no question that the best and most versatile land should be retained for food production wherever possible, and this is safeguarded by both the agricultural and solar industry.

“Solar panels are installations which could be easily removed in 20-25 years time returning the land to its original use. Solar farms can provide a means for farmers to take land out of agricultural production for a number of years and economically return it to full agricultural production again in the future.

“We welcome Defra’s confirmation that areas of a field that do not have panels will still be eligible for the Basic Payments Scheme. This is especially important in ensuring that landowners who only have a few land-based panels are not unfairly penalised. The CLA now calls on the RPA and Defra to ensure that the implementation and mapping process is made as simple as possible and is not an administrative burden.”

Jenny Jones, The Green Party:

“This misguided attack by the Environment Secretary deliberately ignores the fact that the planning system is already there to prevent unsightly and overly dominant solar farms or their deployment on high quality productive agricultural land. Where they do go ahead on poorer grade soils, planning conditions should ensure that they boost biodiversity and revert back to their original use when appropriate.

“The suggestion that solar farm growth will displace land for growing apples and increase our dependence on imported apples is total nonsense. Prior to the emergence of solar, UK orchards had been in decline for decades, thanks to continued Government neglect and lack of support from the big supermarkets.

“At a time when we really need solar to play a major role in our energy mix and energy security, whether from solar farms on lower grade agricultural soils, or the empty roof tops of London’s businesses, government should be getting right behind this, not undermining and stifling its growth”

Alexander Creed, Strutt & Parker:

“I don’t think it’s much of an announcement because I think the Royal Payments Agency [who administer the CAP scheme for DEFRA] were quite clear on it before: if you had a 30-year lease or 35-year lease to a developer you were not in control of the land.

“We’ve been telling farmers from the start: if you’ve been letting your land to a solar developer, you are not eligible to claiming single farm payments anyway because it is in breech of the rules.”

Mark Turner, Lightsource Renewable Energy:

“The concerns cited by Defra and the Environment Minister are as usual, playing to the gallery and is criticism that solar farm developers are used to. It is pure fantasy to suggest that the amount of land potentially utilised by solar farms has any material impact on food production. It is especially absurd given the co-usage by sheep, geese, chickens etc. on solar farms”

Merlin Hyman, Regen SW:

“Solar farms should be built on lower grade agricultural land and brownfield sites and be designed to enhance agriculture and biodiversity– they should not compete with food production. Projects that don't meet this high standard should be dealt with through the planning system, not central government intervention. High quality renewable energy projects can enhance the sustainability of the rural economy by creating new sources of income locally and cutting energy costs.”

Seb Berry, Solarcentury.

“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.”

Alasdair Cameron, Friends of the Earth:

“Solar power will soon be cheaper than gas, and could be the cheapest form of energy within a decade – but it needs stability and support to get there. Constantly fiddling with renewable energy policies and sending mixed messages to the media will cost Britain dearly in jobs, investment and energy security.

“Done correctly, solar farms can go hand-in-hand with food production, boost biodiversity and deliver clean electricity to the nation. Poorly-sited solar farms should be dealt with through the planning system and sensible policy, not knee jerk responses to appease reactionary voices.”