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Solar farms: A toxic blot on the landscape

Mail on Sunday

They’re filled with noxious chemicals, many are made by Chinese prisoners… and they don’t even work efficiently in gloomy British weather. More than a fifth of farmland will eventually be lost to solar farms, threatening the UK’s food security 

It has been calculated that most UK solar farms, including those in Devon (pictured) will never get beyond 12 per cent of their true generating capacity in the course of a year, due to the cloudy British weather

Across Britain, solar farms are on the march. 

Some 1,000 acres of rural land a month are earmarked for ‘photovoltaic’ panels and the miles of cabling that go with them.

The Government admits that more than a fifth of our farmland will eventually be lost to ‘green’ initiatives such as these. 

Last week, The Mail on Sunday counted 270 solar farms under construction or waiting for planning permission around the country.

Environmental lobbyists argue that solar energy is a crucial part of a sustainable future, but they talk less about the growing doubts raised by scientists and angry groups of residents.

Because, apart from ruining the view, solar panels are also woefully inefficient at their only job – which is to generate electricity amid the cloud and rain of north-west Europe.

Then there is the question of disposal. 

The materials the panels are made with have a life expectancy of less than 50 years and are difficult and expensive to recycle, raising the prospect of discarded panel mountains leaking dangerous heavy metals.

And with the majority of panels now made in China, there are fears – all too plausible – that some have been produced in forced labour camps, including those where members of the oppressed Uighur minority are imprisoned.

‘A power supply that is always both unpredictable and intermittent is not sensible,’ says Christopher Darwin.

‘In a few years’ time, if winter power cuts increase as expected, people will wonder why solar industrial sites in the countryside were considered anything other than expensive white elephants.’

The protesters have been joined by actor and local resident John Nettles, who keeps a smallholding nearby. 

Best known for roles in Bergerac and Midsomer Murders, today Nettles features in a video which lambasts the spread of solar farms and, in particular, the proposed mega-development near the village of Pyworthy.

‘Enough is enough,’ he says. ‘People need to understand the enormous scale and visual impact. 

‘The giant new project at Derril Water would desecrate the pastoral vista in this part of Devon, turning it into an industrialised landscape of solar panels and security fencing.

‘It would ruin 164 acres of pasture for at least 40 years. Decision-makers… have failed to take into account the carbon footprint of manufacturing 76,000 solar panels on the other side of the world, transported and installed here. 

‘They are simply not low-carbon.’

So unsuitable is the British weather, it has been calculated that most UK solar farms will never get beyond 12 per cent of their true generating capacity in the course of a year. 

Solar energy contributed a measly seven per cent of National Grid power last month, even though April was unusually sunny and dry. 

In December, the solar contribution was a pathetic 0.67 per cent of the total.

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) think-tank, says solar energy makes no sense in this country and the many miles of panelling are likely to do more harm than good.

‘There is simply not enough sun,’ he says. 

‘Perhaps in the Sahara, where no one lives, having these huge, tens of miles of solar panels may make sense.

‘But in Britain I’m concerned about the unintended consequences. 

‘You would need to carpet about five per cent of Britain’s entire land in solar panels to generate enough energy to keep things working – and that’s only in the day. 

‘Obviously they don’t work at night. They leave a huge ecological footprint.

‘A single nuclear power plant sits on a square kilometre or so of land. 

‘For solar panels to generate the equivalent energy, you’d need 10,000 times more space – maybe even more.’ […]

Direct Government subsidies for solar farms were abandoned in 2019 (although earlier lucrative agreements are still in force). 

But rents from solar farms far outstrip the precarious profits from conventional agriculture, with Devon landowners reportedly earning up to £2,000 an acre every year from solar. 

Some sheep farmers in the county are said to earn as little as £6 an acre

This gulf is only likely to get bigger thanks to the Government’s ‘Net Zero By 2050’ initiative, according to Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation. 

Hard-pressed farmers have realised that they can make a profit – and are rushing to take advantage.

‘The net-zero drive is so insensitive to cost and environmental damage, a lot of very strange things are happening,’ says Dr Constable.

‘The brakes are completely off. It’s an unrestrained area of the economy. We’re preparing to lose a large part of British farmland to a second-rate electricity scheme.

‘We’ve got a growing population so within a couple of decades we’ll be 50 per cent dependent on imported food. 

‘Is that a sensible way of using a finite resource, especially post-Brexit? It’s a very odd thing to do.’

There could be worse to come. 

Thanks to a loophole in the planning system, Dr Constable believes solar farms are a good way for developers to turn lower-grade farmland into ‘brownfield’ land, potentially allowing them to be built over in future.

‘Some landowners regard this as a nutcracker scheme,’ says Dr Constable. 

‘Farmland is mostly protected from development – except for solar. 

‘If you own several thousands of acres of land and you’d like to have an industrial estate, solar is a good way to crack the planning nut.’ 

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