The conversion of vast areas of farmland in the United Kingdom into so-called “solar farms” is becoming an increasingly popular proposal for new planning applications. In essence, acres and acres upon acres of prime farmland will soon be covered in solar panels, if current trends continue with local authorities, which can ordinarily be expected to harshly assess planning applications, continue to wave through solar farms.
There may be an uneven distribution of requests for solar farm planning in different regions across the country, but this trend is ubiquitous in the UK. Since the beginning of 2020, solar farm applications have been submitted for at least 28 separate sites in Hampshire, a particularly hard-hit county, spanning a total area of more than 3,500 acres.
Enso Energy plans to one of the biggest solar farms in Hampshire, and indeed the country. It recently secured approval from the local authority, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, to build its enormous solar farm a stone’s throw from one of the best preserved and most valuable areas of Roman heritage in Britain. The council appears not to have considered the history of the area at all when weighing up whether to wave through Enso Energy’s planning application.
A judicial review is clearly necessary in this case, to fairly weigh up the pros and cons of the project ad avoid setting a worrying precedent for similar future planning applications. Already, the sheer number of solar farms, many of them large, that appear to be in the works throughout the country makes it unlikely that it would keep that record for long. The United Kingdom will soon seem like a single massive solar panel from outer space.
Renewable energy sources have potential as a long-term solution, but they are currently not economically viable. Not enough progress has been made in technology. Even if it were technically feasible, the cost of converting our system to renewable energy sources would be prohibitive at the present time. Too many of our politicians are blinded by the far-off net-zero dream, meaning they are happy to see things happen they would never otherwise tolerate, in pursuit of that forlorn dream.
The last thing we need is to shift to ever more expensive means of producing and storing power when our energy costs are already rising at an alarming and painful rate. Let’s put the technology to work in the background to see what it can come up with, whether the means to efficiently harvest and distribute power using renewable sources like solar does materialise, and then revisit it when it’s scalable and ready to be used. Approving huge solar farms and then hoping the technology comes through later is entirely the wrong way to go about it.
Nevertheless, it should be abundantly clear that we can’t just turn off the tap on fossil fuels tomorrow, no matter how much many might like to. Natural gas and other energy sources are not the only options. We are instead presented with a choice between gas from Russia and fracked gas from Britain. Governments will face increasing pressure to allow fracking. It makes perfect sense.
The use of nuclear energy is an important component of the solution to the world’s energy crisis. In a way, the long-awaited approval of the Rolls-Royce small nuclear reactor is a step in the right direction. In order to wean ourselves off of Russia’s energy supply and eventually completely abandon fossil fuels, nuclear power is absolutely indispensable.
If we want Putin to take our economic penalties and decoupling from Russian exports seriously and not as a temporary measure, we need to be honest with ourselves about our long-term energy requirements.
No one, not even the most optimistic solar power promoters, can seriously claim that this is the long-term answer to the problem of keeping our houses warm. Let’s stop sacrificing valuable farmland (and Roman history, in the Bramley and Silchester case) for a hopeless mirage.