Solar developer: Lost land for food production is 'peanuts'
Building sufficient solar farms to meet tough carbon emission targets would only reduce food production by "peanuts", a developer with major plans in the Westcountry has claimed.
Lightsource Renewable Energy, which claims to be the UK's largest operator of photo-voltaic (PV) arrays, has accused critics of "obsessing" over an "incredibly small" depletion in supply.
The comments from the London-based company, which is backed by the £2.5billion fund management company Octopus Investments, comes less than two weeks after it submitted plans for a 32-acre solar farm, outside Exeter.
The five megawatt (MW) application, at Bowhay Farm, follows an earlier, much larger scheme which was withdrawn in January.
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However, by developing grade-two farm land it is at odds with guidelines issued by the Solar Trade Association last week in an attempt to calm the growing conflict over the technology.
Energy firms who are members of the Solar Trade Association (STA) are now expected to adhere to new guidance that includes pre-application consultation with communities, avoiding farmland used for food production, minimising the visual impact and be sensitive to protected landscapes.
Campaigners against the use of agricultural land have described Lightsource's research as "biased" and said the finding should be "taken with a pinch of salt".
But the firm said hitting the target 22gigawatts (GW) of UK electricity by 2020 would affect less than 0.29% of agricultural land.
It calculates that the reduction in land of 53,877 hectares (133,133 acres) would equate to "two-thirds of a dry roasted peanut per person in the UK".
Mark Turner, operations director, said it was "time to start taking climate change seriously".
"There have been some concerns about the impact of solar farms on food production, but it's now been confirmed that this impact is incredibly small," he added.
"Yes, our domestic food production will likely increase over the years, but one of the biggest myths is that solar farms can't be used to cultivate food. Whilst there are a select few concerned about solar farms damaging the countryside or creating a food problem, the biggest point of all of this is being missed."
Penny Mills, chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England in the Devon district of Torridge, said Government policy is about "subsidy farming, not renewable energy".
She added: "Solar farms bring nothing to the local economy apart from expanding the pockets of those who have them installed and the developers. Holidaymakers come to Devon to stay amongst green fields and glorious scenery, not to be surrounded by huge industrial installations."