Reports from over the weekend have indicated that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could be set to restrict the installation of solar panels on British land due to food security.
According to the Guardian and the Observer, Sunak and environment secretary Thérèse Coffey have revived plans to put restrictions on the installation of solar panels on farmland. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss attempted a similar move during her brief tenure last year a move explored by Phil Thompson, CEO of Balance Power, in a guest blog on Solar Power Portal.
Recent reports suggest that Sunak will provide powers to planning officials in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allowing officials to “block a solar project that can be argued to put food security at risk”.
The framework amendment to the NPPF was drafted by Greg Smith, the MP for Buckingham, he told the Observer: “This is a clear, straightforward protection that planning authorities up and down the land can use to say this development on this farmland isn’t going to hit our food security in this area, or this one over here is and therefore use that as a good reason to turn down applications.”
New framework could jeopardise climate goals
The move to block solar installations on farmland is the latest twist in a series of decarbonisation delays that Rishi Sunak has declared in recent weeks, as covered on our sister publication Current±.
Winter is predicted to yet again be a struggle for many vulnerable households and with the UK’s necessity to ween itself off gas and oil, there is a strong need to scale renewable generation technologies such as solar to reduce energy bills and boost energy security.
But eyebrows are again being raised on the watered-down climate targets and the negligence that is being placed on the urgent climate threat by the government. Just a couple of weeks ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its Net Zero Roadmap 2023 report highlighting that the expansion of solar photovoltaics (PV) and battery storage is keeping the global net zero 1.5 degree pathway open, as covered by our sister publication PV Tech.
With this in mind, it appears counterproductive that the current government intends to limit the amount of solar that can be developed in the UK. Although many may continue to state that food production must be prioritised, it should be noted that solar farms in the UK actually cover just 0.1% of land currently.
It could also have a negative effect on the UK farming community. Solar panels can be used as a means for farmers to protect their income whilst waiting for land to be rejuvenated, particularly via the use of ground-mount solar. Thus, the introduction of such a policy could have a negative impact on the financial resilience of the UK farming community – particularly in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and inflated prices.