George Eustice, minister of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has claimed that solar farms are ‘trashing the countryside’, according to comments reported by Western Morning News.
Eustice made the comments while addressing attendees at the Devon County Show. The Defra minister’s comments reflect the tone of the department’s Secretary of State, Liz Truss who earlier this week said that she did not “want to see solar panels on really productive agricultural land”.
As a result of the ministers’ perceptions, CAP payments for land hosting solar farms were scrapped last year. However, a freedom of information request filed by Solar Power Portal revealed that the decision was made in contrary to evidence provided to ministers. Defra was informed directly by the CAP Direct Payments Team that solar farms do not have a “serious” impact on the UK’s agricultural output. The documents released under the FOI show that the CAP Direct Payments Team told Defra in September 2014 that: “Given the small areas of land covered [by solar farms] currently, it is not possible to argue that, at the national level, there is yet a serious impact on agricultural output.”
Speaking to Western Morning News, Eustice described the prevalence of solar farms as “a public policy issue”, adding that “some parts have certainly got far too many solar farms”.
The UK has risen to the third largest global market for large-scale solar developments. However, recent policy changes are predicted to damage the prospects of the sector following removal of renewable obligation support for the largest projects and a challenging contract for difference scheme in which only five projects successfully won support in the first auction round – two of which will not proceed.
The rhetoric coming out of Defra will only serve to make large-scale solar developers in the UK more nervous over the future of the sector. Currently UK developers can still access support under the popular renewable obligation for projects under 5MW, however, the government has warned the sector that if deployment is “growing more rapidly than can be afforded, we will consider taking measures to protect the LCF”.