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Solar farms: A toxic blot on the landscape

May 30, 2021

By Paul Homewood

 

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Across Britain, solar farms are on the march.

Some 1,000 acres of rural land a month are earmarked for ‘photovoltaic’ panels and the miles of cabling that go with them.

The Government admits that more than a fifth of our farmland will eventually be lost to ‘green’ initiatives such as these.

Last week, The Mail on Sunday counted 270 solar farms under construction or waiting for planning permission around the country.

Environmental lobbyists argue that solar energy is a crucial part of a sustainable future, but they talk less about the growing doubts raised by scientists and angry groups of residents.

Because, apart from ruining the view, solar panels are also woefully inefficient at their only job – which is to generate electricity amid the cloud and rain of north-west Europe.

Then there is the question of disposal.

The materials the panels are made with have a life expectancy of less than 50 years and are difficult and expensive to recycle, raising the prospect of discarded panel mountains leaking dangerous heavy metals.

And with the majority of panels now made in China, there are fears – all too plausible – that some have been produced in forced labour camps, including those where members of the oppressed Uighur minority are imprisoned.

‘A power supply that is always both unpredictable and intermittent is not sensible,’ says Christopher Darwin.

‘In a few years’ time, if winter power cuts increase as expected, people will wonder why solar industrial sites in the countryside were considered anything other than expensive white elephants.’

The protesters have been joined by actor and local resident John Nettles, who keeps a smallholding nearby.

Best known for roles in Bergerac and Midsomer Murders, today Nettles features in a video which lambasts the spread of solar farms and, in particular, the proposed mega-development near the village of Pyworthy.

‘Enough is enough,’ he says. ‘People need to understand the enormous scale and visual impact.

‘The giant new project at Derril Water would desecrate the pastoral vista in this part of Devon, turning it into an industrialised landscape of solar panels and security fencing.

‘It would ruin 164 acres of pasture for at least 40 years. Decision-makers… have failed to take into account the carbon footprint of manufacturing 76,000 solar panels on the other side of the world, transported and installed here.

‘They are simply not low-carbon.’

So unsuitable is the British weather, it has been calculated that most UK solar farms will never get beyond 12 per cent of their true generating capacity in the course of a year.

Solar energy contributed a measly seven per cent of National Grid power last month, even though April was unusually sunny and dry.

In December, the solar contribution was a pathetic 0.67 per cent of the total.

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) think-tank, says solar energy makes no sense in this country and the many miles of panelling are likely to do more harm than good.

‘There is simply not enough sun,’ he says.

‘Perhaps in the Sahara, where no one lives, having these huge, tens of miles of solar panels may make sense.

‘But in Britain I’m concerned about the unintended consequences.

‘You would need to carpet about five per cent of Britain’s entire land in solar panels to generate enough energy to keep things working – and that’s only in the day.

‘Obviously they don’t work at night. They leave a huge ecological footprint.

‘A single nuclear power plant sits on a square kilometre or so of land.

‘For solar panels to generate the equivalent energy, you’d need 10,000 times more space – maybe even more.’ […]

Direct Government subsidies for solar farms were abandoned in 2019 (although earlier lucrative agreements are still in force).

But rents from solar farms far outstrip the precarious profits from conventional agriculture, with Devon landowners reportedly earning up to £2,000 an acre every year from solar.

Some sheep farmers in the county are said to earn as little as £6 an acre

This gulf is only likely to get bigger thanks to the Government’s ‘Net Zero By 2050’ initiative, according to Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation.

Hard-pressed farmers have realised that they can make a profit – and are rushing to take advantage.

‘The net-zero drive is so insensitive to cost and environmental damage, a lot of very strange things are happening,’ says Dr Constable.

‘The brakes are completely off. It’s an unrestrained area of the economy. We’re preparing to lose a large part of British farmland to a second-rate electricity scheme.

‘We’ve got a growing population so within a couple of decades we’ll be 50 per cent dependent on imported food.

‘Is that a sensible way of using a finite resource, especially post-Brexit? It’s a very odd thing to do.’

There could be worse to come.

Thanks to a loophole in the planning system, Dr Constable believes solar farms are a good way for developers to turn lower-grade farmland into ‘brownfield’ land, potentially allowing them to be built over in future.

‘Some landowners regard this as a nutcracker scheme,’ says Dr Constable.

‘Farmland is mostly protected from development – except for solar.

‘If you own several thousands of acres of land and you’d like to have an industrial estate, solar is a good way to crack the planning nut.’ 

Full story

 

Just for the record, last year subsidies paid to solar farms via Renewable Obligation Certificates cost energy users £510 million, equivalent to £73/MWh. For that money, we get just 6.9 TWh a year, a tiny 2% of our electricity. Smaller schemes subsidised through Feed In Tariffs will add to this cost.

Despite the figures quoted in the Mail, solar deployment has virtually dried up since ROC subsidies were withdrawn in 2016. (Row 28 are “Unaccredited Schemes – ie not subsidised). Only 326 MW of solar capacity was added last year, an increase of 2.4%.

If the government really plans a big increase in solar capacity, the current desecration of our countryside will be the tip of the iceberg. It is also clear that new solar development is not economically viable, other than in a few niche cases. Which raises the question of whether subsidy schemes will have to be reintroduced.

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https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/solar-photovoltaics-deployment

52 Comments
  1. May 30, 2021 11:24 am

    And no complaints from the environmentalists worried about agriculture taking all that land away from nature.

  2. Up2snuff permalink
    May 30, 2021 11:33 am

    Down in Kent there is a large solar farm proposed for farmland that is also the Swale Nature Reserve. Interestingly, environmental campaigners are against its introduction and the latest campaign posters appearing in the Faversham area on lamposts, in windows and on noticeboards hint at the ‘toxicity’ of batteries.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      May 30, 2021 12:14 pm

      Cleve Hill solar farm is only there for one reason – it has a transmission grid connection point – it is where the London Array Wind Farm connects to the grid. The battery is there to earn revenue from Balancing services which can be more lucrative than actual generation. The developers could not give a damn about the site nor the local residents of Faversham or Whitstable who could literally all die from a major incident at the site. The local health authority even protested against it on the grounds that a fire would be uncontrollable and release enough noxious gas to kill tens of thousands.
      Some of the actual solar panels stand above 4 metres high and will be the ultimate eyesore in a site of special scientific interest.
      It will produce bugger all electricity for at least 3 months of the year and not much for the rest but the destabilising effect it (and others like it) will have on the grid will ensure their batteries earn them a fortune. p.s. I live near Canterbury and was married in Faversham so I do know the area rather well! I also work using that “fuel of satan” (according to many so called “green environmentalists”) down at Dungeness – a new Rolls Royce SMR at Cleve Hill would take up a fraction of the space, generate vastly more reliable power all the time and be multiple orders of magnitude safer.
      Rant over.

      • Up2snuff permalink
        May 30, 2021 6:59 pm

        Ray, I’m in favour of RR’s SMRs: it is obvious that we need them in the UK. The alternative will be to take nuclear subs away from Scotland and park them around the UK and tie them in to the National Grid. Whitstable has a harbour. 😉 An SMR at Cleve Hill would be far less of an eye-sore than that transfer station. It spoils a Tuscany-style sky line. Meanwhile, where Estuary becomes the North Sea, the London Array ruins the seascape: a double ruination.

        At least the architecture is interesting at Dungeness and it provides some much needed jobs.

        I have visited the Swale and it has boosted my interest in birdwatching. It has been quite something to watch a Marsh Harrier hunting, and on another occasion, another mantling its victim down on the ground while waiting for a mate or its young to arrive to join in the feast. The solar farm may well spoil a lot of that. On a visit a few Christmases back, the Swale was filled with Brent (or Brant, if you will) Geese. They would be out on the Estuary dabbling and feeding. Then they would swarm, do a Starling Murmuration impression but with a lot of honking, then drop down – to where they want to put the solar panels – to rest or feed again on the grass.

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        May 31, 2021 10:14 am

        Reality, not rant. BOJO needs a wake up call.

  3. May 30, 2021 11:51 am

    I have solar panels on my roof simply because for 25 years I am getting a 9% ROI. All new houses should automatically have solar panels – minimum of 1kw to offset the house standing load (when the sun shines) – costs will come down and they are far less obtrusive than wind or solar farms.

    • May 30, 2021 1:04 pm

      And who pays for that 9% ROI?

      • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
        May 30, 2021 4:56 pm

        “How dare you” invoke reality!
        [Poe’s Law]
        John

    • bobn permalink
      May 30, 2021 3:10 pm

      No problem with solar on rooves – not wasting good land, as long as the owner pays and there are no subsidies burdening others.
      Appreciate you have them because Govt gives you big subsidized payments (FiTs) that your less fortunate neighbours have to pay to you. Its a thieving and evil scheme (FiTs) that never should have happened, but I dont blame people for taking advantage of the evil introduced by Govts.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        May 30, 2021 5:19 pm

        Perhaps they should be required to pay the grid costs of constraining off surplus solar, and grid reinforcement needed to handle the abnormal flows.

      • Sobaken permalink
        May 30, 2021 6:39 pm

        FiTs are the only reason to install them. They don’t pay for themselves otherwise. You end up spending more money on installing the panels than on simply buying that power from the grid over 25 years that panels would last. My country doesn’t have FiTs, so I’ve never seen rooftop solar here.

      • GeoffB permalink
        May 30, 2021 10:27 pm

        robbing the poor to reward the rich!

    • MarkT permalink
      May 30, 2021 3:17 pm

      Your solar panels do nothing to reduce the cost of the infrastructure that is required to generate electricity when the sun is not shining. Your 9% ROI is being paid for by everyone else. That works if there are only a few of you with panels but if every household had them then there would be no way to pay a ROI. However, if everyone had them then the cost of electricity would have to go up as the fixed costs of providing the power for the 90% of the time when the solar doesn’t work would still have to be recovered. So all you have done is added a hugely expensive investment in solar panels that increases the total cost of providing power and added complexity and instability into the system. The only way it would save money is if those people with panels were disconnected from the main grid as that would eventually lead to a reduction in the need for centrally generated power – but that won’t happen because solar panels don’t work 90% of the time. If you want a concrete example of this idiocy in operation look at the duck curves of the Australian power system.

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        May 30, 2021 11:28 pm

        In South Australia the State Government is planning legislation that all new
        solar panels have an on-line control switch so they can be shut down if the
        output gets too high.
        This is in addition to the current scheme where the grid manager allows the
        output voltage in a local area to rise above the set maximum output of the
        inverter/controller (255V). Common in suburbs with lots of installations.
        Solar panels here return about 17% nominal capacity per year, and the FIT
        varies from $500 to $80 to $60 per MWh. The highest rate was for initial
        investors and has not been available for years (about 17% R.O.I.).

    • Cheshire Red permalink
      May 30, 2021 3:29 pm

      This argument is so dumb.
      If solar panels worked gov’t wouldn’t need to bribe punters with 9% ROI index-linked for a quarter of a century to have them.
      They’d be as essential to a new house as radiators or lighting and would receive the same gov’t incentive, ie zero.

      Insane is too kind a word.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      May 30, 2021 4:50 pm

      Alec, I can understand your view given your personal gain but I am somewhat confused why you think all new houses should automatically have solar panels. It is very easy to extrapolate your own personal circumstances to the “benefit” of others but are you really sure you are an expert qualified to advise? Are you familiar with what VAR stands for in terms of AC networks? Do you know what effect intermittent distributed generation has on reactive power control on the High Tension transmission grid? Are you aware of the multiple issoes involved? These issues are extremely complex and should be left to genuine experts in the technologies not financially self interested groups. As Paul has said, who is actually paying for your ROI?

    • Up2snuff permalink
      May 30, 2021 7:05 pm

      alec, there’s no good reason why we cannot use our best technological brains to come up with ways of incorporating PVs into roof tiles and into window glass. If the Global Warmistas are alarmed at the thought of warm, hot, sunny days a graduated window glass that is slightly darker at the top would help to keep house and apartment interiors cool.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      May 31, 2021 10:15 am

      So you sponge off the rest of us, and are proud of it? Capitalism is ENLIGHTENED self interest.

  4. May 30, 2021 11:51 am

    Here is the video we (Devon CPRE) made to coincide with the Mail article:

    • Mack permalink
      May 31, 2021 9:30 am

      Well done Phillip. Very well made. Let’s hope the campaign is successful..

  5. Mike Jackson permalink
    May 30, 2021 12:23 pm

    One stitch at a time!

  6. Ray Sanders permalink
    May 30, 2021 12:39 pm

    I desperately worry about the intellectual level of the decision makers who authorise these solar farms, either that or some brown paper envelopes are involved.
    Only 23% of the total insolation the majority of UK receives annually comes in the 6 months between the Autumn and Spring equinoxes which is why we have winter! The generation varies by a factor of 8 from the lowest winter month to the highest summer month. So apart from not working at night (often over 16 hours per day) when it does “work” in winter it is feeble at best and zero when panels are covered in snow.
    https://www.solar.sheffield.ac.uk/pvlive/
    Flip the scale to “monthly aggregated” and “all time” shows May 2020 at 1970GWh with Dec 2020 at just 243GWh. Put this into the context that in December 2010 UK peak demand hit 61.5GW and current solar total monthly December output represents barely more than 5 hours peak demand – shame about the other 739 hours in the month.
    Anyone promoting solar farms in the UK is either criminally insane or seriously on the take.

    • May 30, 2021 2:32 pm

      It is hardly any different from their “wonderful trees we all have to plant to suck up all that bad CO2”. They only work for 6 months of the year! What about the grass their trees will replace, do it not also photosynthesis in the childlike minds of these folk? We are living in a time where decision making is at the level of a child based on wilfully over simplified premises also generated at the intellectual level of a child.

      • ORDE SOLOMONS permalink
        May 31, 2021 6:19 am

        pardonmeforbreathing

        That’s why Greta has such a strong following.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 30, 2021 3:55 pm

      It’s not their intellectual level, Ray, it’s their pecuniary level.

    • May 31, 2021 6:36 am

      Suspect the contents of the brown envelopes very often predominate in providing motivation.
      Just consider the windmill payments and the CCCommittee’s shenanigans going unpunished.

      The weird Greta Thunberg’s backers’ and parents’ motivation are obviously not altruistic.

  7. Marjorie Spacek permalink
    May 30, 2021 1:09 pm

    Prof. Vaclav Smil has said that there is not enough land on Earth to accommodate the numbers of solar panels and wind turbines that would be needed to replace fossil fuel energy generation.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      May 31, 2021 10:19 am

      He’s right. A nuclear power engineer from Hinckley Point and I once worked out ( back of an envelope) that the whole of Exmoor would have to be covered with bird choppers to match reactor B at present reduced power.

  8. NeilC permalink
    May 30, 2021 1:23 pm

    Between March and August average UK Sunshine hours 1998-2020 is 5.3 hours/day and September to April is just 2.6 hours/day. So, less than 4 hours per day, out of 8,760 hours per year.

    Whatever happened to efficiency of electricity production, the government really don’t know what efficiency is or means.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 30, 2021 3:58 pm

      Politicians measure efficiency as the speed with which a back-hander gets into their (offshore) bank account.

  9. May 30, 2021 1:43 pm

    Copied from the abstract of a paper I wrote.
    To manufacture a solar panel 1094.4 kWh/m2 of energy is consumed, this same panel if located in Manitoba/Ontario would produce 174 kWh/m2 per year. Therefore, a solar panel located there would have 6.3 years of energy pay-back time. However, to calculate the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) footprint the criteria is more complicated.
    Of the three major influences in a solar panel GHG footprint, the greatest is the source of electrical generation used in its manufacture. If nuclear or hydro power was used for this, a solar panel would have 1 to 10g CO2-eq/kWh GHG footprint. If coal was the primary source of power, the GHG footprint would be of over 300g CO2-eq/kWh. In this instance a solar panel installed in Manitoba/Ontario would have GHG pay-back period of over 170years, far beyond its life span.

  10. Broadlands permalink
    May 30, 2021 1:44 pm

    This should help bring in to sharper focus that there is nothing “renewable” about these replaceable energy sources. Like vegetation they will die but cannot easily be recycled or buried…fossil energy? Sooner than later policy-makers will see the light…photosynthesis means food energy and solar panels necessarily take over the land needed for agriculture.

  11. May 30, 2021 2:25 pm

    Is the Government serious? Throwing away “more than a fifth of our agricultural land on these icons of stupidity?

    These things are even more useless than their useless bird killing windmill counterparts.

    For more than a 5th read a 1/4.

    I have been trying to find a reference to the northerly commercial limit for solar. In the US I think the number is something like 38deg N. London is 51degN! Does anyone have that number?

    This is past bonkers and into the realms of wanton criminality pouring money into the pockets of complete charlatans to plant solar panels full of ever so green cadmium in England that they will have to buy from China.

    How exactly do we make up for the lost agricultural production….of course….buy food from China!

  12. dearieme permalink
    May 30, 2021 3:54 pm

    We should re-wild solar farms. Aurochs, I suggest..

  13. Harry Passfield permalink
    May 30, 2021 4:05 pm

    When I saw the pic of the solar farm – about realised there were many, many more of them, I came to the conclusion that the new Cumbrian coal mine was a much more attractive option.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 30, 2021 4:23 pm

      ‘about’ = ‘and’

  14. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    May 30, 2021 4:53 pm

    A law of the following nature will solve most of the issues – except forced labor and disposal.

    “All new buildings shall be of a circular fashion and sited on a rotating platform. One-half of the outer circumference shall be covered with solar panels, and the structure will optimally follow the direct sun. ”
    {Where do I send my bill for the consulting fee?}

    Of course the climate won’t notice. So what’s the point?
    John

  15. It doesn't add up... permalink
    May 30, 2021 5:24 pm

    Of course there are now schemes to pay solar farms to switch off.

    https://www.current-news.co.uk/news/eso-readies-for-low-summer-demand-with-new-optional-downward-flexibility-management-consultation

    ODFM, and access to the balancing mechanism will see the being paid not to produce, just as with wind farms. More on other costly desperation measures here:

    https://www.power-technology.com/features/uk-transmission-national-grid-eso-power-balancing-load-energy/

    Exports at negative prices, subsidised by UK consumers are included.

  16. May 30, 2021 6:03 pm

    6pm Countryfile : any Islington PR buzzwords ?

    Llŷn Peninsula, North Wales
    – plans for a major *blue energy* project that involves harnessing the power of the tide

    (tidal power is difficult cos the sea generally smashes up the machinery ..startups do it for the subsidy grants)
    This may tackle energy issues, but what do residents make of it ?
    …. and what will be the impact on wildlife and fishing?”

    • May 30, 2021 6:04 pm

      the November PR story
      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-54915368

    • Sobaken permalink
      May 30, 2021 6:54 pm

      Just 1.2 million? The project must be tiny. Tidal power should cost somewhere around 3 billion per GW of capacity to construct.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        May 31, 2021 3:55 am

        It’s supposedly 5x 100kW underwater turbines. Provided they are working, perhaps a 25-30% capacity factor.

        In November 2020 Nova was awarded funding from the Welsh Government through the
        European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to support the environmental consenting
        and engineering design work for the Ynys Enlli tidal energy project. In 2017 Nova was
        awarded funding from the National Lottery Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) which enabled
        us to set up our operations in north Wales, including employing staff locally.

        So I guess there are many more millions to come. The Bluemull Sound project was over €20m from the EU for a smaller array.

    • Ray Sandes permalink
      May 31, 2021 10:28 am

      From the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project’s original website. “will produce power for up to 14 hours per day” In other words “guaranteed to produce zero power for a minimum of 10 hours each and every single day of the year,”
      I really would struggle to make this sort of stuff up.

      • June 1, 2021 7:58 pm

        Swansea Tidal Lagoon is a completely different location, at the other end of Wales
        and completely different tech
        : tidal versus ocean current turbines

  17. May 30, 2021 7:53 pm

    The persitence of these and all other dud renewables reeks of corruption, most obviously in the CC Committee.

  18. A man of no rank permalink
    May 30, 2021 8:09 pm

    It feels a bit cheap repeating the same stuff, but the world is in serious danger of getting side-tracked. All these Green projects are set to reduce CO2 emissions. WHY, this life-giving trace gas has no influence on Climate.

  19. Thomas Carr permalink
    May 30, 2021 8:48 pm

    Having enjoyed most of the above it is again time for my usual banalities :
    1. Sheep graze beneath and around the panels outside Ely , Cambs. U.K.
    2 Agricultural subsidies are not all to do with farming.

  20. Graeme No.3 permalink
    May 30, 2021 11:35 pm

    The simple solution would be to require a substantial deposit of the cost of removal of the
    panels at the end of their life, before they are installed.

  21. pdp1140 permalink
    May 31, 2021 9:15 am

    If solar panels are so good, I have long wondered why there is no programme to festoon public buildings with them.

  22. Mal Fraser permalink
    May 31, 2021 10:08 am

    Google images have plenty of images regarding wind turbine burial and solar panel graveyards, yet here in the UK best not drop any litter or the Council’s that approve these developments will fine you! The irony would ne lost on them!

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