Opposing solar farms isn’t Nimbyism – it’s energy realism

Jason Reed

March 9, 2022

I’m 21 years old. I would like to be able to afford to buy a house one day. So, inevitably, I deplore Nimbyism. As I have written on this site before, the scourge of local councils blocking new developments, leading to house prices continuing to skyrocket, is outrageous, and my generation are suffering the consequences.

Having said all that, there is at least one type of development which local authorities would do very well to resist: solar farms.

There is a new trend of applications for planning permission to convert huge swathes of British farmland into so-called ‘solar farms’. Effectively, perfectly farmable land is set to be covered with thousands and thousands of solar panels.

Some areas are seeing more solar farm planning applications than others, but the phenomenon is widespread across the country. In Hampshire alone – a particularly hard-hit county – there have been no less than 28 different sites subjecting to solar farm applications since the start of 2020, covering a whopping 3,500 acres.

One proposed 200-acre solar farm by Enso Energy across six fields on land near Silchester’s Church Lane Farm and Bramley’s Vyne Lodge Farm in Hampshire is equivalent to 140 football pitches. If planning permission is granted by the twelve members of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Development Control Committee, it would become the fifth largest solar farm in England and the largest in England on agricultural land.

But it probably wouldn’t hold that record for long, because of the sheer volume of solar farms, many of them enormous, which seem to be in the works around the country. Before long, the UK will be one giant solar panel visible from space.

Renewable energy may be our long-term future, but for now, it is simply not viable. The technology just isn’t there yet. Switching our grid to renewable power sources now would, if it were possible, be ruinously expensive.

At a time when our energy bills are already skyrocketing at an alarming and painful pace, the last thing we need to be doing is switching to even more costly methods of creating and storing power. Instead, let’s allow the technology to innovate behind the scenes and come back to it when it is scalable and ready for use.

In the meantime, it ought to be crystal clear that as much as we might like to turn off the fossil fuels tap tomorrow, we can’t. The choice we face is not between natural gas and renewable energy. Instead, we must choose between Russian gas and British gas. The pressure on the government to get fracking will only grow. It’s common sense.

Nuclear power is also a key part of the answer to our energy woes. The recent long-awaited approval for the Rolls-Royce mini reactor is a good start, but it goes nowhere near far enough. If we are serious about detaching our energy needs from Russia and moving away from fossil fuels altogether, we cannot do it without nuclear.

If our threats against Russia are to be credible – if we want Putin to believe that our economic sanctions and decoupling from Russian exports is our long-term plan, not just a flash in the pan – then we must be serious and realistic about our energy needs.

Even solar power’s most ardent proponents cannot credibly argue that it is the solution to keeping our homes warm any time in the foreseeable future. Let’s stop giving up acres and acres of our farmland chasing a pipe dream.

Author

  • Jason Reed is the UK Lead at Young Voices and a political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624 or read more on his website, jason-reed.co.uk

Written by Jason Reed

Jason Reed is the UK Lead at Young Voices and a political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624 or read more on his website, jason-reed.co.uk

2 comments

  1. It is literally NIMBYism, and it is the way you describe it. If solar fails then let it fail but giving people power over other’s property rights isn’t the way to achieve anything. Likewise, that applies to every other form of energy production.

  2. If solar farms are as bad of an investment as you suggest – why not let them fail? The owners cannot sell their energy for any more or less than the market rate – which if that turns out to be unprofitable, they can sell their PV array and remove it – and put sheep back on the land (or whatever), and nobody would even know.

    You can’t un-frack land if that turns out not to be profitable. By that point, you have already done much more damage than putting a solar panel in a field. Not least, even by being successful in fracking you have released methane into the atmosphere (a worse greenhouse gas than CO2), and the gas you have captured will have subsequently been burnt (releasing more CO2), as well as potentially contaminating the land itself. If you’re unsuccessful, you’ll have done all of that damage and made a financial loss.

    Solar farms are rarely that visible from the ground – by design, the panels face towards the sun, in the sky. Unless you’re travelling everywhere by helicopter, they’re hardly a blight on the landscape. Do we really need to sacrifice our energy security, and future (and current) environment, by appeasing helicopter-riding citizens?

    Likewise, I see little to no evidence that solar PV is a “costly method of producing energy”. In fact, quite the opposite. Solar panel costs have dropped massively over the last decade – something like 80%. At scale, per kW of generation, it’s cheaper than gas – by having a much lower upfront cost and lower maintainence costs. Wind is similarly efficient.

    Nuclear – whilst the generation once operational is emissions free – has a long lead time. Yes, smaller reactors will help – but they also have lower output, so there will need to be more of them. Solar PV can be set up in a very short time span in comparison (days to weeks, rather than years) and start generating almost immediately. The sooner you can start generating, the less gas needs to be burnt.

    Storage is a different topic: but thanks to ubiquitous connectivity, having renewables on the grid, we can use smart products to start to shift non-time sensitive loads (like heating hot water tanks, charging batteries overnight, etc) to exaclty when renewables are available – and this reduces the amount of gas we need to burn during peak times when renewables aren’t available to keep up with demand. This way of storing energy wasn’t something that entered engineers minds decades ago, so there was a lot of focus on grid scale energy storage technology – which remains expensive even now. Thankfully, we can solve the problem in a totally different way by distributing energy storage instead of centralising it.

    More renewables on the grid now is the right move. National Grid has been working on it for years, it’s part of their short, medium and long term plans. Solar PV doesn’t affect anyone outside of a farmer’s land who decides to install it. Fracking – on the other hand – absolutely does in a multitude of ways.

    I’d rather the UK became a giant solar panel from space, than a scorched wasteland on the ground – wouldn’t you?

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