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What people really think about solar farms

I am lucky enough to live next to a solar farm. I cannot see it. I cannot hear it. But I know that during daylight hours I am getting clean, green electricity from it, and that makes me feel good.

There’s no wire coming from the solar farm into my house – the electricity gets fed into the grid through a nearby sub-station. But because of ‘distributed generation’ the power flows to meet the closest source of demand, which is my house and my neighbours’ homes and businesses – the equivalent of 3,000 homes for this 10 MW site. It’s a much more efficient way of generating energy compared to large centralised power stations because it avoids the transmission losses of 8% -10% that occur when power is transmitted across long distances.

My local solar farm, April 2014

My local solar farm, April 2014

It’s also a good use of land. Where I live feels rural and secluded but it’s actually on the edge of a medium-sized market town. New development is rife. In the last two years I’ve seen planning permission granted to build an enormous Tesco, a housing estate and an industrial estate on the green fields around me. Solar is a great alternative – the land will stay in agricultural usage, guaranteed for 25 years, while also generating renewable energy. What’s not to like?

 But, I work in the industry, so I would say that wouldn’t I? I wanted to find out what others think, so I asked my brilliant community Facebook page (almost 5,000 likes), where people aren’t shy of offering their opinions on local issues, from the best pub for a Sunday roast to people’s parking habits.

 These were a few typical responses:

 Sue E: “I knew it was going to happen but I didn’t know it was almost finished already. Brilliant as far as I am concerned. We need to invest more in renewables.”

 Des D: “Didn’t know it was there but anything to improve sustainability will get my vote.”

 Gary T: “Hadn’t noticed but now I know I think it’s brilliant. More please.”

 Overall, 31 people commented with 85% saying they liked it, or hadn’t noticed it – replicating national levels of support for solar farms according to DECC’s regular public attitude tracker surveys.

With this in mind, I don’t understand why Greg Barker MP is now reviewing support for large-scale solar. In a recent letter to MPs he said: “I do not want uncontrolled expansion of solar on the countryside … we mustn’t allow large inappropriately sited solar farms to undermine public support”. His concerns aren’t borne out by the evidence – anecdotal or empirical.

Last week another 10 MW project I was involved with breezed through planning with only one objection (the colour of a fence – easily fixed). Residents of Wroughton, near Swindon, are outraged that ‘their’ 40 MW project on a former airfield has been called in by the government for a public inquiry.

The photograph shows ‘my’ local solar farm, taken from a local beauty spot. It blends in with the landscape. I love it – and so do the vast majority of my neighbours. And that’s what people really think about solar farms.

Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall

Powered by Squarespace.  Image of Westmill Coop Solar Farm by Adam Twine