The proposed Hacheston solar farm is apparently now a no-go thanks to the intervention of the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles.
The decision to block the development of the solar farm — which would have covered 127 acres and featured 100,000 solar panels — has many in the UK solar sector feeling uneasy, with the future of many pending projects now seeming uncertain.
Image Credit: Pickles via Wiki CC
The recent intervention is certainly not precedent-setting. Though, just last week, a proposed 100-acre solar project in Tattingstone was blocked by the local planning authority as well, mostly as a result of a campaign against the project by celebrity Griff Rhys Jones.
In contrast to the blocking of the Hacheston project, the stated reason for blocking Tattingstone is (arguably) understandable — the land in question is productive agricultural land. Given the UK’s already great reliance on food imports, the use of agriculturally productive land for energy generation does seem ill-advised — especially considering the fact that there are no doubt a substantial number of very pleasant “brown-sites” available that would otherwise not be productive at all, as well as rooftops.
Of course, whether or not that was the actual reason that the project was campaigned against and blocked is an open question.
Rhys Jones commented on the victory at the time in an interview with the Telegraph: “This is not a victory for my backyard, it is a victory for all our backyards. We need renewables but we need them to be sited with forethought and care and not random opportunism. There are many suitable places for solar farms but they do not include beautiful countryside and good arable land.”
Hmm… I’m inclined to agree.
The UK really isn’t in the position to be repurposing some of its remaining arable land for other purposes.
That said, the end of (proposed) large solar projects isn’t a pleasant sight — and its one that could have a deleterious effect on the development pipeline, especially considering that Pickles’ opposition to renewables likely has nothing to do with the protection of arable land, and that he has repeatedly used the planning system to block solar and wind energy projects.
There’s been some opposition to his recent actions, though, and it appears to be growing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.
In related news, the UK was actually recently predicted to be the biggest solar PV market in Europe in 2014, according to the new NPD Solarbuzz UK Deal Tracker report. The reason for the (projected, and also new) dominance was significant growth in ground-mounted solar PV projects (like the blocked projects mentioned above) in 2014. Hmmm…