Solar Energy and the Government’s Energy Security Strategy

Words by Tom Grimshaw.

With Ofgem announcing that the energy price cap is set to increase from the current £1,971 to £3,549 from 1st October, it is clear that decisive action is needed to mitigate the impacts on the most vulnerable people in society. The government’s Energy Security Strategy, published in Spring 2022, promotes a focus on ground-mounted solar panels, setting out ambitions of generating 70GW of solar energy by 2035.

The strategy encourages the amendment of planning rules to support solar that is co-located with other functions such as agriculture. It also aims to strengthen policy in favour of the development of non-protected land such as land that is not within a conservation area, a National Park, or an area of outstanding natural beauty. The issue, however, lies in the matter of which land is protected or non-protected, and therefore deemed suitable for renewable energy developments such as solar farms.

Green Belt land, within the UK, is among the most protected land and possibly the most difficult policy constraint which developers must overcome if they want to construct developments, particularly those centred around renewable energy. Within the NPPF, paragraph 151 states that, when located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. Therefore, developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed, this may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources.

Alongside this, there is fear that the crackdown on solar farms proposed by the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, could jeopardise the Energy Security Strategy and continue the increasing trend of solar farm planning permission refusals across the UK. Liz Truss has expressed her desires to curtail solar power and onshore windfarms, moving towards fracking and increasing fossil fuel production as the UK’s main source of energy. The new PM has previously described solar farms as “paraphernalia”, as she heavily emphasises the importance of using productive arable land for growing crops rather than renewable energy projects. The PM’s lack of focus on renewable energy and how it could improve the cost-of-living crisis, should not be ignored.

Paraphernalia or political ploy? Why Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are mistaken on solar | Solar Power Portal

The significant increase in planning permission refusals for solar farms goes against the proposals laid out in the government’s British Energy Security Strategy. Solar power alone currently contributes 14GW of energy, so to meet the 70GW target, decisive action will need to be taken to encourage and organise the development of solar farms across the UK.

If Liz Truss goes ahead with her plans to impose the reduction of solar farms and other renewable energy developments, the strategy will need to be rewritten. Between January 2021 and July 2022, twenty-three Solar farms were refused planning permission across England, Wales, and Scotland. Most of these refusals were within South-east and Eastern England, with four projects turned down in each region. The estimated power generated by all the refused proposals could have powered 147,000 homes annually, cutting around £100m off the UK’s electricity bills this year. These developments could have benefitted the whole country, especially those most vulnerable to increasing energy prices.

At Ethical Partnership we have been involved in several proposals which have successfully obtained planning permission within Green Belt land and areas of outstanding natural beauty. If there is a chance that development can take place on Green Belt Land, we are always keen to realise it for our clients, no matter how time-consuming the case may be. We can demonstrate that Solar farms or other renewable energy developments almost always have a limited impact on the appearance and openness of the Green Belt. It is also clear that this limited impact is outweighed by the demonstrable environmental benefits associated with these developments.

As an environmentally conscious organisation, we endeavour to benefit the public throughout our projects, with as little environmental harm as possible. Our extensive research into ways new technologies can be integrated into projects to minimise pollution and energy use, has encouraged us to work on more projects that fully utilise the benefits of renewable energy.

To find out more about the work we do and how we can support you, check out our portfolio of work, see the services we offer or contact us directly. You can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with the work that we do.

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