The new UK Environment Secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, is reportedly against the installation of solar panels on agricultural land. He argues that it hinders agricultural growth and food production. Jayawardena aims to redefine the categorization of “best and most versatile” land (BMV) to exclude certain grades suitable for solar development.
Impact on Solar Energy Development:
Currently, BMV land includes grades 1 to 3a, while solar farms are predominantly built on or planned for 3b land. Planning guidance advises against development on BMV land. If grade 3b land is included in the BMV category, it would effectively prohibit solar development on approximately 41% of England’s land area or 58% of agricultural land. It should be noted that grades 4 and 5 land, mainly located in unsuitable upland areas, are not ideal for solar projects.
Industry and Environmental Responses:
The UK solar sector has expressed alarm over the potential obstruction of cheap, domestically produced energy by major planning rules. Solar Energy UK, the trade association, highlights the multifaceted benefits of solar power, including reduced energy bills, enhanced energy security, economic growth, and support for rural economies. Opposition to solar farms by Jayawardena is viewed by some as counterproductive to growth and sustainability objectives.
Environmental thinktank Green Alliance emphasizes the urgent need for expanding renewable energy sources, particularly in light of the gas crisis, to mitigate the high costs associated with gas. Solar energy is recognized as one of the fastest-deployed energy sources, making it essential to accelerate its development.
The opposition of the UK Environment Secretary to solar farms on agricultural land has raised concerns among the solar energy industry and environmental advocates. With the need to expand renewable energy capacity to address energy security and combat the rising costs of gas, the potential limitations on solar development pose challenges in meeting sustainability targets. The balance between agricultural growth and renewable energy expansion will require careful consideration and exploration of alternative approaches to maximize the benefits of both sectors.