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The Desecration Of Devon

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David Rose, Mail on Sunday

The Duchess of Cornwall’s son-in-law has just built this 50-acre solar farm. And through green levies on your power bills, YOU are paying for it… £430,000 every year

It is an English landscape of quintessential beauty, whose many shades of green contrast sharply with the red, loamy soil: a place of steep, broad hills and ancient stone churches, where magnificent open vistas stretch from the crags of Dartmoor to the sea at Dawlish.

South East Devon has inspired many writers, such as Thomas Hardy, Michael Morpurgo and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But today, one of its jewels, Haldon Ridge, in the heart of an officially designated Area of Great Landscape Value close to the Dartmoor National Park, is being desecrated.

Thanks to a company controlled by Harry Lopes, the former underwear model who is the son-in-law of the Duchess of Cornwall, running along the road at the top of the Ridge for close to a mile is the edge of a giant 50-acre solar panel energy farm.

Eyesore: The 50-acre solar farm on Haldon Ridge lies on an official Area of Great Landscape Value

Eyesore: The 50-acre solar farm on Haldon Ridge lies on an official Area of Great Landscape Value

Thanks to a company controlled by Harry Lopes, the former underwear model who is the son-in-law of the Duchess of Cornwall, the solar farm sits at the top of the ridge

The vast ‘green’ subsidies paid for renewable energy will make Mr Lopes and his colleagues – who include Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall, sister of the TV chef and River Cottage author Hugh – surprisingly rich.

An internal report by the local Teignbridge Council’s heritage and landscape officer, Olwen Maidment, described the solar panel development as ‘not sympathetic to the character of the locality’, warning that it would ‘detract from its scenic quality’.

However, it was awarded planning permission late last year without ever being discussed by the council’s planning committee. […]

The Ashcombe estate’s owner, Ralph Rayner, refused to say yesterday how much Solstice Renewables was paying him for the use of his land. His only comment was to complain that we had flown over the solar farm without seeking his permission.

The Solstice website makes much of a pledge, issued by Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall, to pay £6,500 a year for a ‘community benefit fund’ for projects such as improved local internet connections. Yet, next to the vast amounts the farm will rake in, most of it from subsidy, this pales into insignificance.

The Mail on Sunday asked John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a specialist think-tank, to compute the sums, given the panels’ supposed output of 6.5 megawatts.

He said: ‘The total annual income will be about £770,000, of which about £430,000 a year will be from subsidy under the Renewable Obligation scheme, ie over 50 per cent of their annual income will be from subsidy.’ This is about 60 times as much as might be expected as income from growing wheat.

When The Mail on Sunday asked about the figures, Mr Lopes and Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall issued a statement. This referred only to the legality of the farm’s planning permission, adding that the site would eventually be surrounded by newly planted hedges.

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