Can energy peace plan end solar and wind controversy?
The renewable energy industry is used to controversy. Utilising the world's natural resources, like the blowing wind and the warming sun, to generate power sounds so benign. But almost as soon as the first big turbines went up and the first large solar arrays started appear, there has been anger and discord.
So the 'peace plan' announced yesterday by the industry, which is now promising to consult more widely with rural communities and listen more intently if they oppose renewable schemes, is welcome. Taken at face value, it should ensure that installations are permitted only where a majority of local people are happy to have them.
The renewable industry – heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and charged with meeting demanding Government targets – is clearly banking on the accuracy of a recent YouGov poll showing general support for large scale solar arrays. It calculates that, compared with the alleged pollution of conventional power, the perceived risks of nuclear and the scare stories about earthquakes and contaminated water linked to fracking, solar and wind will score highly with local people.
We're not so sure. That's why, today, we are asking Western Morning News readers to vote on solar energy and tell us if they would be happy – or indeed are happy, since solar arrays are already widespread – to see the technology in their back yards.
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Ask the question of some Conservative members of parliament and you get a very clear answer. Owen Paterson, Secretary of State at Defra, is currently locked in a row with Ed Davey, the Lib Dem, who runs the Department for Energy and Climate Change, over renewable energy and where it can legitimately be used.
A report detailing the damage turbines and solar arrays do to rural areas is reportedly being suppressed by Mr Davey while Mr Paterson is determined to see it published. The Defra Secretary – who enjoys significant support in the countryside – spoke out against turbines earlier this year, saying that in some cases the heavily subsidised technology was "a complete scam." And MP Sarah Wollaston, who has seen hundreds of solar panels installed in her South Hams constituency, has warned that agricultural land is for growing food, not producing subsidised energy.
The conservation group the CPRE is equally robust in its opposition to renewable installations that spoil the countryside. It warns this week that a shortage of brownfield sites for solar farms will lead to more agricultural land being given over to acres of the unsightly black panels and attendant fencing, security cameras and other industrial paraphernalia. The promise of greater consultation by the renewables industry has got to be a good thing. Whether or not they'll get the answers they are expecting from the rural public remains to be seen.