Bright or blight? Powerful views on solar farms
GENERATING your own renewable energy has many benefits, including lower fuel bills and less carbon omissions.
But solar farm applications from businesses looking to cash in on renewable energy schemes, are coming under fire from people all across the county who say the size and scale of solar sites are out of control.
According to figures on Cornwall Council's website, 33 solar farm sites are currently generating electricity in the county and 27 further sites have been given permission by the council's planning department.
And it seems solar farms will only become more prevalent. Greg Barker, energy climate and change minister, disclosed his ambition for 20GW of energy to be produced by solar panels across the UK by 2020.
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That is a tenfold increase in the number of solar farms currently built or that are planned.
However, a spokesman from Cornwall Council confirmed it had no target for the generation of renewable energy and, with Cornwall's land prime for solar farm development, local people fear landscapes which could be used for other means, not least farming and food production, will be lost.
The council said: "Government planning guidance states that local planning authorities should have a positive strategy to promote energy from low carbon and renewable sources and that they should design their planning policies to maximise renewable and low carbon energy development while ensuring that adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily, including cumulative landscape and visual impacts.
"The latest plan for Cornwall does not have a target for renewable energy generation."
The council says applications will be treated sensitively if they are near an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which cover about 30 per cent of Cornwall.
Stephan Harrison, climate scientist and associate professor at University of Exeter's Penryn campus, says the council's solar policy is out of touch with central government.
He said: "It's clear we need to reduce the carbon footprint. But rather than taking up greenfield sites, needed for the growth of food, why not ensure all new homes are installed with solar panelling?
"The UK is now a net importer of food and to lose this land to solar panels does not make sense. It seems central government is several steps ahead of Cornwall Council.
"If solar farms were sited properly, it's hard to argue against them."
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has questioned the number of solar farm sites and whether clustering them together, as seen in Mabe, where four sites exist and a further one is proposed, is detrimental to the countryside.
It is the clustering together of solar farms, some covering an area the equivalent of 30 football pitches, and the loss of Cornwall's signature beautiful landscape, that is concerning local people.
Linda Chapman, from Mabe, lives close to where a 7MW solar farm could be built on land next to Kessel Quarry.
If given permission, developers says it will power 1,722 households and reduce carbon emissions by about 3,160 tonnes annually.
But Ms Chapman says the area is already saturated with solar farms. "It's a bit of a nightmare. What countryside we have left is being taken over by solar farms.
"I understand the need for renewable energy but does it have to be all clumped together?
"What about putting solar farms on roofs? We need to protect our rural settings."
The plans are being put forward through a partnership between AGRenewables and Aggregate Industries.
John Baker, from AGRenewables, said he acknowledged that while there is opposition to the plans, the company has offered an extensive consultation period and will set up a community benefit fund, injecting about £25,000 over 25 years into local groups.
Speaking about solar farms across Cornwall, he says: "As well as the obvious reduction in carbon emissions, developers want to help benefit the community. That is why benefit funds are set up to distribute some of the profit from the farms into local groups.
"Developers are working to keep profit created from solar farms in the UK.
"Yes, there are alternative renewable energy sources such as wave and wind. But there has to be some element of sustaining reliable power. Over the next ten years we have to figure out ways to move forward."
He explained that, should the Kessel Quarry solar farm be given permission, then the site will never again be used for extracting minerals, as a compromise with local residents.
John Penny, from Aggregate Industries, says the solar farm is part of the company's promise to reduce its carbon footprint.
He says: "We are a big employer in Cornwall and we need to do something to mitigate the carbon we have.
"Our target is to reduce carbon emissions by around 25 per cent. We have to do something about it.
"Some plans are controversial but there are benefits for all if this scheme goes ahead."
Applications for new solar farm developments are often met with fierce opposition from local residents.
A controversial plan for a Mount Hawke solar farm the size of 28 football pitches was recently approved, despite objections from neighbours.
Meanwhile, a 16.2-hectare solar farm site on Grampound Road is facing stiff opposition.
Philip Howson, from a Ladock walking group, also objected to the plans.
He wrote on the council's website: "The proposed development lies immediately adjoining and to the south of public bridleway 16.
"Considerable work has been carried out recently to restore this right of way to public use after years of neglect. Sadly, if this development were to go ahead, the view from the path would be of an industrial character rather than the present pleasant rural setting."