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Solar industry hits back at Defra

'Bad science' claim as solar industry hits back at Defra
By Western Morning News | Posted: October 30, 2014

The Government has been accused of using “bad science” to justify its “prejudice” against solar energyfarms after evidence for slashing subsidies to farmers was ridiculed.

The growth of the “green” technology has been extremely unpopular in the rural Westcountry – where critics welcomed ministers announcing they would end hand-outs underwriting large-scale solar schemes.

But the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was charged with “chasing headlines” after it revealed it had no idea of how much farmland has been taken over by the technology.

The admission is embarrassing for ministers already fending off accusations that there is little science to support badger culling to halt tuberculosis in cattle ravaging the South West.

It has also raised questions over the coalition’s energy policy amid fears of winter black-outs, Tory pledges to end wind farm subsidy and the promise of a surge in well-paid “green jobs” failing to materialise.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss had branded solar “ugly” and claimed vast arrays were monopolising productive land that should be used to reduce food imports.

But her decision to halt EU-funded grants worth £2 million a year was derided after Farming Minister George Eustice admitted in a written parliamentary answer that no assessment had been made of the amount of productive arable land that had been annexed for solar farms.

Labour MP Paul Flynn, who tabled the question, said: “I think it proves again the Tory Party has become the shrill voice of ignorance and bigotry on the environment.

“This is bad science combined with prejudice against the most beneficial and environmentally benign solution.”

Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle added the decision had “no regard for evidence”. She continued: “The National Farmers’ Union, Countryside Land Association, Solar Trade Association and others have already said that the policy doesn’t make any sense.”

Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen South West, which champions renewable technology growth in the region, said: “Renewable energy projects such as solar, wind, anaerobic digestion and biomass heating are making an increasingly important contribution to the sustainability of the Westcountry’s rural economy – bringing a new source of income and reducing dependence on expensive imported energy.

“What is needed is a rigorous process of assessing potential projects to ensure they enable farming to continue – and that they are good for wildlife, work with local communities and are well located.

“This rigorous assessment should be done locally through our planning system, not by ministerial policy announcements to Sunday newspapers that have clearly been made without a proper assessment of the evidence.”

Ms Truss has spoken of how she was “very concerned that a lot of our land is being taken up with solar farms”.

“We’ve already got 250 of them and we’ve got 10,000 football pitches worth of new solar farms in the pipeline,” she said.

“Food and farming is our number one manufacturing industry, the whole food chain represents £100 billion in our economy, and it is a real problem if we are using productive agricultural land for solar farms.”

There are 250 installed solar farms, including a growing number in Devon and Cornwall. One in South Devon is poised to cover 75 acres of farmland.

Alasdair Cameron, renewable energy and climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Solar is on course to be cheaper than gas within just a few years, and will be one of the biggest sources of energy in the future. We should be dealing with it in a sensible grown-up way.”