Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are competing to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, and as such, the Prime Minister. Image: wikicommons (Sunak – Simon Walker/HM Treasury, Truss – Chris McAndrew)

The solar industry is “deeply concerned” by comments made by Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak during the Conservative party leader contest, Solar Energy UK has said.

“Our fields, should be full of our fantastic produce … it shouldn’t be full of solar panels,” said Truss at the most recent round of hustings, held in Exeter on 1 August.

Truss continued to state that she will change the rules to make sure Britain’s high value agricultural land is used for farming.

Sunak similarly levelled an attack on solar farms when he took to the stage to address the audience.

He argued that leadership is about being honest, as he highlighted a number of challenges Britain is facing currently. This includes making sure Westminster understands the needs of rural communities, he said, which in turn means “making sure our fields are used for food production and not solar panels.”

Solar Energy UK have rebuffed these comments as concerning and out of touch with public opinion in Britain.

“[Solar farms] offer cheap, clean power and time and again have been proven to be popular with the public. Yet the two candidates for Prime Minister are falling over themselves to say how much they dislike solar farms. How did we end up in this alternate universe?” said Chris Hewett, chief executive of the trade association Solar Energy UK.

“There is a vast swell of capital ready to invest in in new solar farms. They cut our carbon footprint, displace extortionately expensive fossil fuels, cut bills, create jobs, benefit nature and bolster the nation’s energy security. Generating our own, home-grown electricity means we reduce our dependence on Russia and the Middle East. This is patently in the UK’s strategic interest.”

The comments follow a recent YouGov survey of Conservative Party members, which found that 73% supported solar, including ground-mounted solar farms.

Beyond political parties, a recent survey from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that over 80% of the public would be happy to have a ground-mount solar power plant in their local areas.

The comments from both candidates come amid concerns over food security in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and echo criticism from a number of vocal parties criticising solar for its land use. 

Solar Energy UK has previously flagged that far from solar farms posing a threat to the UK’s food security, they provide a reliable source of additional income for the country’s hard-pressed farmers.

If every solar farm currently put forward was built, this would still account for less than 0.4% of the UK’s agricultural land and 0.28% of the UK’s entire land area, highlighted the trade association.

Solar farms also offer a number of additional benefits, such as providing a haven for wildlife or providing an area to raise grazing livestock.

Beyond solar, Truss also repeated her pledge to bring in a temporary moratorium on the green levies on energy bills.

Bills have surged over recent months, and are expected to jump significantly in October and January, with the price cap reaching £3,359 and £3,616 respectively.

This increase has not been driven by green levies, but by dramatic increases in wholesale gas prices. There was significant volatility in the market in the second half of 2021 due to a number of factors including increased demand as economies restarted following COVID-19 lockdowns and cold weather in Asia.

Over the first half of 2022, the gas market has become still more volatile in particular in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the insecurity this has created.

Meanwhile, amid this high price environment wind farms are expected to pay back £660 million between October 2021 to April 2023 under the Contracts for Difference scheme, which is funded through green levies. This payback will see the levy fall to just 29p per home in administration fees, a significant cut from £35 as of the April 2021 price cap, according to research from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in March.