June 20, 2012
A Brief View of the Bowhay Farm Solar PV Public Information Evening
I've recently returned from Shillingford St. George, where I sat at the front of the packed village hall whilst Penny and Brendan from Lightsource explained the virtues of generating 12.3 MW of renewable energy on grade 2 agricultural land just north of Dunchideock. I did enquire if it would be OK for me to record the proceedings on my trusty Sony Handycam, or even just a still camera. Lightsource informed me that they weren't "comfortable" with that idea. The lady sat next to me informed me that she thought "that's a pity". That is indeed a pity, because it means a more "in depth" report will have to wait for another day, always assuming that I can successfully decipher my hastily scribbled notes.
Later on it was also a pity that in response to a question from the floor Lightsource said they weren't comfortable with a show of hands of "fors" and "againsts". Apparently such things can intimidate people into casting a "vote" that does not reflect their true opinion. Whilst there was certainly one speaker from the floor strongly in favour of the project, in my humble opinion most of the speakers were against it. As for the "silent majority", we may never know but Lightsource ought to. They asked everyone to fill in a feedback form, which I duly did. I ticked the "opposed" box, and I explained why. Whilst I did learn some interesting new things at the meeting, and I met some interesting new people too, I didn't learn anything significantly new from Lightsource. You'll hear more from me about all that at a later date, but earlier today I did learn some relevant new information from people more expert in the field of solar PV than me.
I have of course read the "Zero Carbon Britain 2030" report, which says (amongst other things) that:
[Solar PV] energy is generated primarily in the summer, which clashes with our peak consumption which is highest on long, sunless winter nights. Therefore in the UK solar PV is mainly appropriate to those who are off grid and without a suitable wind or other resource.
That didn't sound very positive for a large on grid project like Bowhay Farm, so I asked ZCB what their latest guidance is on such things. They responded as follows:
When the previous version of ZCB was written, it was not thought that it would be economic to make PV a major part of our energy mix because it was too expensive. However, as prices have fallen dramatically, I think we will need to review this position. Even the government now talks about 20GW of solar PV in the UK. Having solar in the energy mix would be good in terms of balancing supply and demand because it makes us less dependent on wind variations, and because generally solar output is highest at the time of the day when the overall UK demand is high (middle of the day). So purely from an energy perspective I would say that, while the previous report did not put much weight on solar, we strongly support it. Shillingford Abbot also has an excellent solar resource, around 1000kWh/kW/yr.
With open field, ground mounted PV systems, the one concern would be the land use implications. In ZCB we recognise that we will need to use a lot of high quality land for growing food. Compared to wind power, solar PV requires a large amount of land per energy produced – a 54 acre 12MW solar PV farm will produce the same amount of electricity as three large wind turbines (which take away almost no land from food production). So on a larger scale, putting solar farms on prime agricultural land that could be used for food production is problematic.
Not quite so bad perhaps, but still an "against" it seems to me. Earlier today I also had the privilege of speaking with David Green, the visionary founder of the EcoIsland Partnership on the Isle of Wight. More on other topics that David and I discussed will have to wait until a later date also. Needless to say at one point during the conversation we did turn to the thorny topic of large scale solar PV farms in the southern United Kingdom. David told me that in his opinion:
Given the choice solar PV should be on roofs, not on arable land.
Another tick in the "against" column, although as I mentioned on my own feedback form, it's important to try to keep an open mind on these vital issues until all the relevant "evidence" and "opinions" have been assembled and duly considered.
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