The Daily Telegraph
South being prepared for huge solar farm expansion
Campaigners warn that farmers will be forced off their land with extra pressure on the green belt. By Jonathan Leake
Farmland equivalent to 40,000 football pitches could be turned into industrial solar farms across southern England under plans by Ofgem to boost green electricity generation close to London.
It suggests 20 gigawatts of electricity could be generated across the Home Counties and East Anglia, meaning the installation of up to 60m industrial solar panels.
Another 4-6GW would come from onshore wind farms, comprising 2,000-3,000 wind turbines, in the Home Counties and South.
Total output would roughly equate to 13 nuclear power stations. The proposal could cut CO2 emissions, reduce bills and boost energy security for the southern UK but solar farms take up 2,500 acres of land for each gigawatt of power.
So those benefits come at the price of turning up to 50,000 acres of fertile farmland into industrial-scale solar parks and wind farms that could be hugely controversial.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has warned the plan could see many tenant farmers thrown off their land, increase pressure on the green belt and see rural landscapes altered for ever.
However, Ofgem, the Government’s energy regulator, says it could help to cut consumer bills by £51bn over 15 years.
The proposals are part of its wider plans for “locational pricing” under which the wholesale price of electricity, currently the same across Britain, would instead vary by region. The price in each region would instead be based on local supply and demand, as well as how close power stations were to consumers, for whom the highest bills would be in regions such as London and the South East, which are most distant from northern and offshore wind farms.
Conversely, consumers in regions such as Scotland, which already have thousands of turbines both onshore and around their coasts, would pay much less.
Ofgem’s research suggests that making electricity prices higher in the South East, where demand is strongest and supply weakest, would incentivise solar developers.
They would be encouraged to buy up swathes of farmland in a region stretching from London to Bristol and up to Norwich and Cambridge for solar parks and wind farms.
Its report, just published, divides the UK into seven pricing zones with southern England and East Anglia in regions GB6 and GB7.
It said: “Attracted by higher nodal [regional] prices and the better climatic condition … more than 20GW of new solar generation capacity is forecast to be sited in GB6 and GB7 by 2040.”
A spokesman said: “Consumer benefits of locational pricing could reach £51bn between 2025-2040. For domestic consumers, this would be equivalent to £56-a-year saving.”
He admitted, however, that Scottish consumers would gain most, saving an average £60 while Londoners would benefit by just £10 a year.
Those most affected by solar farms say such savings are small compared with the damage done to landscapes.
Paul Harding, of Great Wymondley Village Association, in Hertfordshire, said: “Our local residents in Wymondley already face being consumed by two solar farms, taking a total of 123 hectares of quality farmland in precious green belt very close to conservation areas and listed buildings just because we are near a substation.
“Each part of the country should contribute to the national good in the way it most effectively can and for the
‘Some solar farms will happen, but the gung-ho approach is not justified on scenery grounds alone’
South East that is not covering our farmland with solar panels.”
David Mairs, of CPRE Kent, said: “Swathes of land have been sacrificed for solar farms across our county.
“Cleve Hill on the North Kent Marshes, mooted at the time of application as the largest in the country, was wrong on every level. Thanet, in the east of the county, is effectively ring-fenced by wind farms, ruining the seascape.
“We accept that some solar farms and offshore wind farms are going to happen, but the gung-ho approach being suggested is not justifiable, on landscape grounds alone.”
Other green campaigners say regional pricing and generation is essential.
Simon Skillings, an analyst at E3G, an energy think tank, said locational pricing would be essential to keeping bills down and boosting renewables.
He said: “It has to happen to avoid wasting huge amounts of money. Our view is that it will be impossible to run the electricity system efficiently without it. This is not a big policy choice – it’s a necessity.”
Some energy companies are also enthusiasts. Rachel Fletcher, economics director at Octopus Energy, which supplies 5.3m UK customers, said it was strongly in favour of locational pricing partly because it would cut costs for all consumers by up to £51bn between 2025 and 2040 to £4bn a year and help the UK cut its carbon emissions faster.
She said: “Locational pricing will benefit every household in the UK. It would incentivise the growth of renewables closer to where electricity is consumed and it would mean we would use our grid in the most efficient way.
“This wouldn’t just bring bills down for consumers, it also means we wouldn’t have to plaster our beautiful countryside with more pylons through unnecessary grid infrastructure. It would also attract energy-intensive industries like data centres to areas where renewable energy is already abundant, creating thousands of jobs.”
Trade bodies are more cautious – warning the upheaval of changing an established system would be a deterrent to investors.
Solar Energy UK’S director of policy and delivery Gemma Grimes said: “Making energy prices more volatile, disrupting investor confidence and increasing the cost of capital at this time would be deeply unhelpful.”
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said it would soon be consulting on locational pricing and the potential for expansion of solar power.
A spokesman said: “We are considering a range of options and incentives to better match where energy is generated and used, helping to ensure a fair deal for consumers.
“We continue to work closely with industry and stakeholders to develop and refine options for reform, ahead of a further consultation expected this autumn.”