July 3, 2013

UK Parliament to Debate Large Scale Solar PV Parks

It was announced on Twitter earlier today that the UK's Backbench Business Committee has scheduled a debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday July 11th on the topic of large scale solar arrays. Never having heard of the Backbench Business Committee before I rummaged around on the UK Parliament web site and discovered this video, which explains how it works:

In brief the committee is:

A very recent innovation, the very first time that backbenchers themselves can choose issues and subjects that they want to have debated.

In this instance the backbencher in question is Dr. Sarah Wollaston, whose constituency is just down the road from here in Totnes. What's more her chosen subject is large scale solar PV parks! In the "issues" section of her web site Sarah explains at length her view on that delicate subject down here in not so sunny South West England. Again in brief:

The South Hams does well in the National League tables for solar panels on roofs and I am delighted by this. I maintain that roofs are where this technology belongs, not in our green fields, where they look sterile, ugly and out of place. Large solar farms are a waste of prime agricultural land and I believe that their proliferation will be damaging for food production.

That last sentence also summarises much of what I've been saying for the last 12 months, so I'm pleased to discover that the issue will soon get an airing in Parliament. After the announcement Sarah posted a "tweet" of her own, which read as follows:

Whilst Teignbridge isn't exactly "blighted" by solar PV "farms" as yet I emailed my own Member of Parliament anyway, and you may wish to do so as well. I wonder whether the discussion will cover planning measures to ensure that the technology does go on large roofs?

In related news it seems as though new guidance on planning procedures for large scale solar arrays in England will be be released soon by the National Solar Centre. It's only a draft, but the version I've seen does say that for grade 1 and 2 agricultural land:

  1. National Planning Policy would not normally support development on the best agricultural land.
  2. The best quality land should be used for agriculture purposes.
  3. Clear justification on the benefits a development would have for the land to be taken out of full agriculture use would have to demonstrated.

and for grade 3 land it says:

Readily available maps may not identify whether grade 3 land is 3a or 3b. If the site is grade 3, it should be specifically assessed to establish whether the land meets the criteria for grade 3a or 3b.

A step in the right direction? On the topic of solar PV on roofs the draft NSC guidance also has this to say about "Community scale roof panels":

In many cases fixing solar panels to a community or commercial roof is likely to be considered ‘permitted development’ under planning law with no need to apply for planning permission.

With solar PV panels so cheap these days, why not generate electricity where it will be used instead of "in the middle of nowhere"? In fact why not insist upon it?

If the technology works properly you should be able to view Thursday's debate live below:

P.S. It seems the video above works in retrospect also. Fast forward until the time in the bottom right reads 15:00 to skip the preceding social care reform debate.

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Comments on UK Parliament to Debate Large Scale Solar PV Parks »

July 6, 2013

Heather Moffett @ 12:19 pm

My recent letter in the Totnes Times:

Dear Totnes Times,

So, we had a public uproar due to planning applications for a large wind turbine just outside Harberton, and another applied for by our farming neighbour, about 1/2mile from our farm. Meetings ensued, outrage was expressed, and the turbine applications turned down. I did not object to either. I do not find wind turbines, at least when not in quantity, to be particularly visually offensive, and frankly could not understand what all the fuss was about.

But did I somehow miss a similar scale of public objection, or the chance to object, when the Marley Thatch ‘Solar Park’ was applied for? Where was the outrage, where were the public meetings, objecting to this 'carbuncle on the face'- to borrow Prince Charles’ expression- of our beloved and glorious Devon countryside? I have watched with increasing incredulity as fields have become obliterated with acres of hideous shiny black plastic ( or whatever it is they are made of). I am all for renewable energy, and have absolutely no objection to solar panels on the roofs of existing buildings, but in open fields, just below the lower slopes of Dartmoor, and visible from the lanes for miles around, it beggars belief that it has been allowed, especially in an area reliant on tourism! I feel for the homeowners, whose properties must have been seriously devalued by the desecration of their previously spectacular views, now marred for many years to come.

My neighbour was not allowed solar panels on the roof of her barn conversion because it is listed. It is only listed, not because of any special beauty, but because one end of it is built into the hillside, and this renders it unusual, and therefore, apparently worthy of grading. The barn is end on to the lane, the roof is south facing and overlooks our stable yard, therefore we are the only people who would see it and would have no objection. So, my friend is not allowed to heat her home in a green manner with solar panels, yet acres of the damn things are permitted to scar our countryside. I am so angry, no, incandescent!! And the climate, deemed suitable for the largest solar park in the UK, yet where for the last six years, we exclaim in near shock, if we get a glimpse of blue sky, never mind sun!! Madness. Planning decisions that have been made even in our small part of the South Hams, have left many of us reeling at the idiocy of the placing of certain buildings, or refusals on diversifications with little or no impact on the countryside but which would increase trade for other local businesses, dismissed with an airy wave.

Truly, a bunch of monkeys in Paignton Zoo, armed with maps and a supply of marker pins, could do a better job of ‘planning’.

Yours, angrily,

Heather Moffett

East Leigh Farm
Harberton.

Jim @ 12:58 pm

Hi Heather,

Thanks for your comprehensive comment! Have you by any chance written something similar to your local MP yet, who it appears may lend your views a sympathetic ear?

Note that the Met Office here in Exeter confirm your analysis of the local climate. From my own point of view I agree that wind turbines certainly make much more sense here than solar "farms" from a "technical" perspective. However beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, and I suspect others may not agree with us about the "visual" perspective!

Nick Hall @ 2:58 pm

Well said Heather.
We are facing a similar development in our village in the foothills of the Quantocks (an area of Ourstanding Natural Beauty!). On further investigation, I was truly shocked to see the numbers of these awaiting, and gaining planning permission throughout the South West, and I can only assume this to be a massive Gravy Train funded by tax payer's money, by a government struggling with it's "Green" energy targets.

The irony that these eyesore developments are seen as environmentally friendly beggars belief.

Yours even more angrily,

Nick Hall.

Jim @ 7:02 pm

Hi Nick,

Actually I think, strictly speaking, it's "electricity bill payers' money" rather than "tax payers' money"

All the Aller Farm information is now up on the WSDC web site. Please see my article on the subject for further information. If I were you I'd get on my bike and go and take a few photos!

July 11, 2013

Mintaka @ 2:16 pm

I have been listening to Sarah Wollaston's speech. She was really excellent. She touched a lot of important topics. Waiting for more.

Jim @ 8:49 pm

As a very brief overview of the debate, during his concluding speech Minister of State Greg Barker said:

We will not allow prime agricultural land to be taken out of active food production

He also promised new planning guidelines, but it seems we'll have to wait a while longer to discover exactly how Greg intends to put into practice his "vision of the future":

A much more decentralised, distributed energy economy.

July 14, 2013

Jim @ 11:36 am

A transcript of the debate is now available via the online version of Hansard.

Note that you'll need to scroll down past the transcript of the Social Care Reform debate to read it.

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