Government needs to put the brakes on.
Net Zero Watch today welcomed media reports that the Secretary of State for the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), The Rt Hon Ranil Jayawardena MP, is minded to tighten planning advice to discourage the development of large scale solar photovoltaic power stations on farmland.
Net Zero Watch has warned of this misuse of farmland and its threat to food security in two papers by our energy director, Dr John Constable.
The most recent of which was published in March this year: The Case for Reform of Solar Energy Planning Guidance.
The loss of agricultural land is on a highly significant scale with 30,000 acres or more currently facing proposals for solar photovoltaic, and much more in the early stages of development, putting further pressure on land use.
The UK currently has approximately 14.8 million acres of arable land, the lowest level since 1945. In the decade 2009–2019, the arable area fell by about 740,000 acres, and the area of land lost to agriculture currently stands at about 99,000 acres per year. The area facing solar development is a highly significant increment to an already undesirable trend. The UK is approximately 61% self-sufficient in food production, and 75% self-sufficient in indigenous food types.
However, this relatively reassuring picture is put into doubt by the decline in agricultural area under cultivation and by population growth, which adds approximately 400,000 people to feed each year. On these assumptions, within twenty years the UK will be feeding a population that is considerably larger, but from an arable landbase that has shrunk by 13%. This would imply an import dependency of about 50% or more.
Against this background Mr Jaywardena’s move to restrain development is obviously wise. We must hope that the government is not deflected by protests from vested interests in the solar industry and their followers in parliament.
NZW’s energy director, Dr Constable, said:
Farmland is already a solar converter making food, which is much more valuable than third-rate and very expensive electrons from solar photovoltaic cells. The fact that some green campaigners would rather have low grade electricity than high quality British farm produce shows how bizarrely irrational environmentalism has become.”