Countryside Fears Over Solar Energy Growth

Emma Birchley, East of England Correspondent
Countryside Fears Over Solar Energy Growth

Rural campaigners say the push to generate green energy through giant solar farms is having an unacceptable impact on Britain's rural landscape.

Developments like Burntstalks Solar Farm in Norfolk, which has nearly 50,000 photovoltaic panels and captures enough of the sun's rays to power nearly 4,000 homes, are heralded as a sensible solution to the UK's energy needs.

However, some claim the sites are yet another blot on the landscape and are ruining the countryside.

David Hook, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, told Sky News: "I think that if policy is not changed ... the industrialisation through solar farms and extra wind turbines is going to have a dramatic effect on the countryside, and a very negative effect."

It is only two years since the UK's first large scale sun park began generating electricity in Lincolnshire.

There are now nearly 160, mostly in rural areas, with a further 229 under construction or awaiting approval.

Lightsource Renewable Energy owns and operates dozens of solar farms, including Burntstalks, near King's Lynn.

Mark Turner, the company's operations director, said: "The balance we have to strike is between a solar farm that can generally only be seen by people very close up to it and usually by fleeting glimpses through hedgerows as you are driving along, versus potential wind farms or the other alternatives of non-renewables including nuclear power stations and coal-fired power stations.

"The amount of ground taken up by the farm is minimal and what we then try to do, as far as possible, is to use the land for dual use.

"We graze sheep or plant wild flowers, so the land is used for the kind of purpose it would be used for before the panels were here."

The Government has made it clear it backs the production of solar energy, which it hopes will eventually produce 20GW of energy every year - eight times more than at present and enough to power around six million homes.

Its priority is for panels to be put on brownfield sites and the roofs of factories, hospitals and houses but according to Mr Turner, that is not always possible.

"Finding roof tops that are owned by companies we can rely on to be there in the 25 years we need to return the investment is extremely difficult," he said.

"And finding brownfield sites that are sufficiently far enough south to generate enough electricity, are close enough to the grid and aren't dedicated to other purposes, is extremely difficult."