Activists recently protested against Anglo Renewables’ proposed solar farm in Hampshire, claiming that growing food is more important than solar development, which should be situated elsewhere. Image: Sheila Openshaw/Solent News & Photo Agency.

The National Farmers’ Union of Scotland (NFUS) signed a deal with Iqony Solar Energy Solutions (SENS), nominally to support Scotland’s net zero ambitions. The solar power and battery developer will provide a new income stream for working farms and crofts.

Crucially, the ‘affinity’ deal aims to ensure that only a marginal amount of productive farmland is used for solar installations. NFUS and SENS will work closely to identify suitable sites.

A suitable site would be a minimum of 80 acres, where development would have minimal impact on the view and a low flood risk. Sites cannot be rocky or steep, but most of the land must be of low agricultural productivity and must be available to lease with potential for connection to the National Grid.

The deal states that NFUS, which represents more than 9,000 farming and crofting businesses, will use its knowledge and member relationships to identify sites suitable for PV technology and battery projects. SENS will develop the sites and take long-term ownership. In return, landowners will receive an indexed, competitive market rent for up to 40 years.

NFU Scotland commercial manager Tom Graham said: “Agrivoltaics and solar technology are currently developing at a rapid pace. This partnership keeps us at the forefront of new solar technology that will help NFU Scotland’s members build sustainable and profitable businesses by creating additional income on what they do for years to come.

“We’ve seen how impactful and innovative our members can be when they are supported by reliable renewable services, and we expect many of them will want to explore this opportunity to grow their businesses without using up productive agricultural land, still facilitating grazing and thus create a stable economic future for Scottish agriculture.”

Solar installation’s impact on agricultural land

After signing the deal, SENS and NFUS moved to reassure landowners that the impact of solar installations would be marginal. They point out that to reach the UK’s Net Zero goals, PV would only take up 0.29% of available land (and 0.51% of all available agricultural land). To put this into perspective, UK airports currently use 0.2% of available land and golf courses use 0.51% of available land.

Today (29 May), it was reported that the former head of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Minette Batters, was keeping the issue of solar installations on agricultural land front of mind at Hay Literary Festival.

Batters called on the government to stop the spread of solar farms in rural areas—the topic of a recent ministerial statement—warning that the country is being “sold off” to those who do not pay taxes in the UK.

She highlighted that while solar farms are being built, dairy and arable farming face an uncertain future.

Activists recently protested against a proposed solar farm in Hampshire by Anglo Renewables, claiming that growing food is more important than solar development, which should be situated elsewhere.

When approached for comment, Solar Energy UK provided chief executive Chris Hewett’s statement: “Minette Batters is no longer the head of the NFU, and she is now expressing her personal opinion.

“There is clear planning policy which Ministers have recently reiterated, setting out the balance of priorities for the nation. Solar farms support the rural economy and integrate with agriculture. They create no threat to food security.” 

The comment has been published in other outlets.

Solar Energy UK has made clear that solar farms are demonstrably popular and offer multiple simultaneous uses of land; agriculture use often continues after a solar farm is built.