Addressing concerns about solar farms

From new technologies and recycling systems … to community energy and sources of funding

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There are some exciting new technologies around solar power:

The promise of solar panels – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Solar cladding for rural outbuildings – Vision Group for Sidmouth

‘British weather-proof’ solar panels – Vision Group for Sidmouth

The latest in solar technology – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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And we do need to get serious about transitioning to ‘cleaner energy’:

Energy transition: from Devon to Ungersheim – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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The problem is whether the ‘alternative technologies’ create more problems than they promise to solve.

Here are the main points from a piece in today’s Daily Mail, which looks at the issues – which is followed in turn by an analysis of those same points.

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A toxic blot on the landscape:

Solar farms are ruining views and causing misery for residents – and, critics say, they’re filled with noxious chemicals, many are made by Chinese prisoners… and don’t even work in gloomy British weather

When Christopher and Heather Darwin retired to the Devon countryside 13 years ago, their view was a rolling green upland dotted with sheep and cows. Today, they can hardly bear to look. A sea of glinting solar panels stretches out, bank upon bank, across the fields surrounding the village of Pancrasweek near Bude

Then there is the question of disposal. The materials the panels are made with have a life expectancy of less than 50 years and are difficult and expensive to recycle, raising the prospect of discarded panel mountains leaking dangerous heavy metals…

And with the majority of panels now made in China, there are fears – all too plausible – that some have been produced in forced labour camps, including those where members of the oppressed Uighur minority are imprisoned…

‘A power supply that is always both unpredictable and intermittent is not sensible,’ says Christopher Darwin. ‘In a few years’ time, if winter power cuts increase as expected, people will wonder why solar industrial sites in the countryside were considered anything other than expensive white elephants.’ …

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) think-tank, says solar energy makes no sense in this country and the many miles of panelling are likely to do more harm than good. ‘There is simply not enough sun,’ he says. ‘Perhaps in the Sahara, where no one lives, having these huge, tens of miles of solar panels may make sense.’ …

The Devon branch of the CPRE (formerly known as the Campaign to Protect Rural England) says that nearly 4,300 acres of Devon farmland have already been lost to solar development. ‘When does it stop? When there are no fields left for sheep, cattle or wildlife?’ asks Penny Mills, director of Devon CPRE…

But rents from solar farms far outstrip the precarious profits from conventional agriculture, with Devon landowners reportedly earning up to £2,000 an acre every year from solar. Some sheep farmers in the county are said to earn as little as £6 an acre. This gulf is only likely to get bigger thanks to the Government’s ‘Net Zero By 2050’ initiative, according to Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation. ‘The net-zero drive is so insensitive to cost and environmental damage, a lot of very strange things are happening,’ says Dr Constable. ‘The brakes are completely off. It’s an unrestrained area of the economy. We’re preparing to lose a large part of British farmland to a second-rate electricity scheme. We’ve got a growing population so within a couple of decades we’ll be 50 per cent dependent on imported food. Is that a sensible way of using a finite resource, especially post-Brexit? It’s a very odd thing to do.’ …

Farmers and developers are not the only winners. Solar is also good business for local authorities, which charge fees for planning applications. Devon County Council has already received £107,591 from the developers at Derril Water. It can also charge the solar firms business rates, which farmers do not normally pay. Meanwhile, there is an investment boom as – responding to official pressure – large corporations attempt to show they are diversifying into fashionable green energy.

A toxic blot on the landscape: Solar farms are ruining views and causing misery for residents | Daily Mail Online

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Looking at the points raised in the article:

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Pancrasweek near Bude:

Back in 2017, against the objections of the CPRE, the ‘temporary’ site had its life extended by the planning authorities:

“The original reason for granting planning permission was that the countryside and landscape would only be blighted for a temporary period by the industrial development and people would live to see the return of the green and pleasant land. We fear with this decision, that precedents are being set and the countryside is increasingly under threat of being blighted for generations, so that soon there will be few people alive who can remember how beautiful the south west countryside used to look.”

Solar farm can stay for extra 15 years, says council | News | Holsworthy Post

And earlier this year, an application for a further solar farm down the road was submitted:

Dr Phil Bratby, Devon CPRE trustee and energy spokesman, says, “Like all solar farms, Derril Water will produce an intermittent amount of electricity when we least need it – at mid-day in summer – and none when we most need it when it is cold and dark in winter. Careful examination of the Planning Statement shows the developer has exaggerated the emissions savings as they have ignored the carbon footprint of the proposal and the impact of its intermittent and unpredictable output on gas-fired power stations used to balance the grid (supply must equal demand at all times).”

An industrialised solar farm landscape looms near Holsworthy in northwest Devon | The Devon Daily

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question of disposal:

Certainly when it comes to getting rid of wind turbines, there’s a problem, as reflected in these pages:

What do we do with old wind-turbine blades? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

The questions around wind energy – Vision Group for Sidmouth

There are similar concerns around solar panels:

Solar Panel Waste: The Dark Side of Clean Energy | Discover Magazine

Nevertheless, the technology around recycling and disposal is improving markedly:

Solar panel recycling: Turning ticking time bombs into opportunities – pv magazine USA

Can Solar Panels Be Recycled? | CED Greentech

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made in China:

The media has widely reported on abuses around the manufacture of solar panels:

Revealed: UK solar projects using panels from firms linked to Xinjiang forced labour | Solar power | The Guardian

China uses Uyghur forced labour to make solar panels, says report – BBC News

The Chinese government is not happy of course:

UK ‘Uygur Tribunal’ aims to smear China: Xinjiang officials – CGTN

On the other hand, there are also complaints that not more noise is being made:

Why Won’t Environmentalists Speak Out Against Forced Labor For China-Made Solar Panels?

However, there is noise being made by ‘environmentalists’:

Polysilicon: Price And Forced Labour Concerns Persist – Solar Quotes Blog

Solar Industry Pushed To Examine Supply Chain After Reports of Forced Labor in China | Greentech Media

RENEWABLE ENERGY: China’s human rights abuses may threaten U.S. solar — Monday, October 26, 2020 — www.eenews.net

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expensive white elephants:

The UK weather might seem to pose a real obstacle to any efficient use of solar panels – but new forecasting technologies are clearly going to help:

Bad weather forecasts are a climate crisis disaster | WIRED UK

And as the Mail pointed out a year ago, there are other positive technologies developing:

‘British weather-proof’ solar panel that generates 20 per cent MORE energy in cloudy weather has been invented by scientists

  • Improvement to the solar panel method makes it more sensitive to light 
  • Energy would be created in dimmer conditions such as in drizzle and cloud
  • Layer thinner than a human hair produce around 20% more energy in low light 

Professor Lianzhou Wang, from the University of Queensland, said: ‘Essentially, we’ve developed solar technology that is British weather proof. ‘It can produce energy indoors or even when it is cloudy and wet. It is also printable, flexible and transparent – meaning it could be used as a skin to power next generation electric cars or applied as a film to windows on buildings and homes.’

A solar panel that is ‘British weather-proof’ has been invented by scientists  | Daily Mail Online

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Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF)

This lobbying group is rather ‘controversial’:

The Global Warming Policy Foundation

Global Warming Policy Foundation – Wikipedia

As pointed out by the Source Watch website:

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is the United Kingdom‘s most high-profile climate denier group. It opposes action to mitigate climate change. Founded by Nigel Lawson,[1] it is a registered educational charity “deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated” to mitigate global warming.[2] Although founder Lawson claims to accept that anthropogenic global warming is occurring, this acceptance appears to be “considerably less than half-hearted;”[3] the GWPF webpage banner image sports a short-term (2001-2010) temperature graph (blue, below) giving the appearance that the world is not warming.

Global Warming Policy Foundation – SourceWatch

Global Warming Policy Foundation – DeSmog

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Devon branch of the CPRE:

This is also a lobbying group:

CPRE Devon – Campaign to Protect Rural England

And it lobbies against ‘large scale development’ – whether solar farms or housing estates:

CPRE Devon | The Devon Daily

John Nettles OBE spearheading our campaign against solar farms in Devon’s countryside | Devon Planning Applications | CPRE Devon

Concerned about large scale developments in Devon? Then join the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s postcard campaign | Exmouth Journal

However, it is not ‘against’ solar farms per se – as this piece in the Telegraph shows (paywall):

Split at country charity over its support for energy farms

The CPRE is in favour of ‘community energy’ – which is much smaller scale and can be controlled by local people:

10 reasons why we love community energy – for people and planet

5. It allows the local landscape to be protected

Designing a renewable energy scheme as a community gives local people the power to decide on the right place for a wind turbine or solar panel. This means energy infrastructure can be kept away from the most beautiful areas and sited in a place that fits in with the community. For example, the renewable installations run by Eigg electric were carefully placed to ensure they have as small an impact on the landscape as possible. Their hydro generator was located on a local burn, to have minimum visual impact. The placement of their wind turbines was also thoughtful: it has the best combination of exposure to wind with minimal turbulence, good accessibility and was the best fit in the landscape, with minimal visual impact from all directions.

6. It protects nature – by design

Community energy projects are about a lot more than just profit. They look at the bigger landscape, and so can be designed in a way that helps wildlife and actually increases biodiversity. At Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy Chetworth Solar Farm, the largest area of lowland neutral meadow restoration in the country, they’ve created a diverse grassland habitat in order to maximise wildlife benefits including encouraging more wildflower species.

10 reasons why we love community energy – for people and planet – CPRE

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Renewable Energy Foundation:

This is another lobbying group – which has also courted controversy:

Welcome | ref.org.uk

Renewable Energy Foundation – Wikipedia

Again as noted by Source Watch:

The Renewable Energy Foundation provides “strong support” for local objectors to planning applications for windfarms. [3] Dr Constable is reported to tour the country to give speeches at local planning meetings opposing wind farms on behalf of the REF. One environmental activist described the organization thus “The Renewable Energy Foundation is a sham organisation; it has nothing to do with renewable energy. It is a front for industrial lobby groups which have interests in fossil fuels and nuclear power.” [4]

Renewable Energy Foundation – SourceWatch

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Devon County Council:

Finally, there is a clear financial incentive for councils to agree to large-scale infrastructure – as this is one of the few sources of income beyond business rates:

Community Infrastructure Levy – GOV.UK

But there are other sources – especially if a council is serious about ‘green infrastructure’:

Financing Green Ambitions – Full report | Local Government Association

Funding Opportunities | Community Energy England

UK Budget announces green funding schemes for energy transition

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