One of the many challenges our new Prime Minister faces is that of energy security. The war in Ukraine and the subsequent soaring gas prices have focused the UK’s mind on just where our energy comes from, and what we pay for it. Part of the solution is undoubtedly renewables and in particular solar energy. However, comments during the hustings from both candidates seemed to imply that solar farms in particular could be facing a harder time when it comes to obtaining planning permission and other approvals. With promises to stop fields being filled with ‘paraphernalia’ like solar farms, both candidates clearly had solar in their sights.
At a time when the Government has announced an estimated £100bn + support package for energy consumers because of the critical situation we see on gas supplies, it would be strange to target solar energy, which provides energy security and cheap energy production. There are those who say the announcements were made to appeal to those who voted in the conservative leadership election, but as 75% of Conservative Party members also support solar energy, this would be an odd move.
Images of beautiful fields being covered in panels are easy to imagine and an easy way to raise concerns, but solar farms are very rarely built on top-quality agricultural land, and when compared with other alternatives such as fracking, are generally less controversial. In addition to generating much needed income, landowners and those who look after the land such as the NFU see renewable energy as a core part of their strategy as they aim for ‘net zero’ and to help farmers to diversify.
There will always be issues when land use is being changed whether it is for new and much-needed housing, or for clean energy production, and it’s right that plans should always be openly discussed. At the end of the day, however, and as the last six months have shown, we need to ‘keep the lights on’ and the need for a secure supply of clean energy must be high on the agendas of those making the decisions. Any barriers that are put in place of those looking to invest in such projects should be looked at closely – we don’t know what’s round the corner and the more self-sufficient the UK can be on energy, the better it will be.