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Further to your recent column, can I just point out that this affair really has little to do with "my personal patch". It is a national planning issue. I am the President of Civic Voice and was present at an APPG with Nick Boles last Monday, so I feel reasonably up to date on these matters, if a little bit worried. Large scale solar farms should be on brownfield sites. This has always been the stated government intention. There are a lot of acceptable locations. The Alton Water plant is not one. This proposed installation is the size of fifty football pitches, 94 acres of farmland, practically a farm in itself. I don't actually see it from my house. This is not really a nimby issue. I have recently protested against badly-sited wind-farms in Wales and Scotland too, so I am afraid I am an interfering busybody as well, but I do get out to see that sort of installation and the pristine landscapes they despoil. Have you been to Argyll and Bute, Pembrokeshire, the Inner Hebrides, Howarth, Skye, Clacton and the Black Mountains recently? I have. Some farms are well-sited. Some are terrible. But they are everywhere. The development of these renewables (now enshrined in legislation) should surely be decided in accordance with properly thought-through local plans and better organised central directives, so that government has to take the blame if things go wrong. At the moment government is hiding behind subsidy-hunting free enterprise. The result of this has been and is random desecration, with little or no accountability. There is wasteland, even in lovely Suffolk. There are warehouse roofs and superstore roofs, car park roofs and, yes, school roofs. There are disused quarries and motorway wastelands. I think it is legitimate to ask why they are not being used more. The answer has a lot to do with economy. Even heavily subsidised photovoltaic panels are hugely expensive and inefficient. They are going on to much-needed agricultural fields because that is cheaper for the developer. (Incidentally we face a world food shortage too.) This particular solar farm is proposed on a stretch of grade two agricultural land – next to a large reservoir used for many leisure pursuits by the populations of nearby Ipswich and Colchester, and close to a village. It abuts a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and ancient woodland. All these things are listed in the energy company’s own literature as being contrary to their preferred use. There are also extensive areas of archaeological interest beneath these fields, which may be damaged by the 2.4m deep piles for each of the 72,000 panels. This ought not to be of purely local concern. It is a national issue. Legally, if agreed, this decision will set a bad precedent. Believe me I am with the people. This week I have been in Rochester, Faversham, Canterbury, Margate and Ramsgate, on different days, discussing planning issues. Amenity groups are all disturbed by a randomly driven planning programme that is not solving our real energy problems. If you spend much of your life on the road as I do, you are witness to a lot of dis-organised chaotic blight, in pursuit of a relatively small energy gain. You ask what I will do when the lights go out. Well I am unlikely to rely on solar power. I am rather conscious of energy saving and tend to only use lights at night. Solar power doesn't operate then. So I will probably depend on a nuclear power plant. There is already one in Suffolk. Sizewell B produces as much electrical energy as about 550,000 acres of wall to wall solar parks. Sizewell C is planned. On the ground, though surrounded with a buffer construction zone, Sizewell C will actually take up less of the countryside than this one solar park, and will generate over a thousand times more energy every year, an even greater output in fact than Sizewell B.
So I am confused. I feel, logically, that, since the renewable option is never likely to exceed thirty per cent of our electricity consumption and do so unreliably, the other 70% has to come from somewhere, and we will clearly have to choose some form of back-up for when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, and that will have to be low carbon too. That this has not been factored into the future is bad for our economy and the future happiness of this country. I am not going to predict "Civil war". I will leave that sort of speculation to you. Though, a shale-well seems less likely to cause it than serious economic decline. It is logical, however, to ask, since we may have to embrace nuclear power in part, how we are any "safer" by not embracing it in total. It is logical to ask whether we are happy importing nuclear power to undermine our renewable credentials? How can we effect to be green, when we use gas from uncertain fossil fuel driven sources as back up? It is logical to ask why we are assaulting our shrinking countryside in the name of this apparent hypocrisy. Shrinking countryside? Yes we have loads of it of course. Solar power, apparently, only wants two per cent. Nick Boles has said he wants another ten for his garden cities. We need a bit more for the pylons and wind-farms we require. And all this in ten years. My mathematics are weak, but if we keep this up, in a hundred years we will actually run out of countryside. We hugely expanded our urban demands in the last hundred years, and only learned to control ourselves in the last fifty. That was through planning. Now a distorted planning system seems actually to aiding and abetting an exponential grab at the countryside. Some wind turbines have gone offshore. The populations of the east coast of England have their fair share of them. Yes, we have some in our backyard. I certainly know where they are. They do, as you say, have to go somewhere. Fields are being taken by wind power companies who target landowners with promises of money. How can any hard-pressed farmer resist? Let alone the more prosperous landowners like David Cameron's father in law. So these devices are scattered all over the countryside, often in the most visible places. The landowner makes money every year, but his neighbours suffer the blight and have no compensation, indeed they pay for the subsidies through their electricity bills, adding insult to injury. Offshore, however, also causes blight on the land. There are miles of overhead power lines to connect them to the grid. They could be put underground, but that is also a lot more expensive. It may give you comfort to suffer this. And it may possibly teach the rest of the world a thing or two, as you desire, but I have a suspicion that they will decide not to waste their money and wreck their countryside as we are doing. In any case, personally, I would prefer not to patronise developing countries, by assuming they should look to us as leaders of their moral outlook, and I don't think the forces of destruction are going to pause as the planet burns and say "leave Britain, they were the good boys." We surely need better solutions to global warming than randomly scattered whirly-gigs, and thousands of acres of glinting solar panels, however soothing to our consciences. I do not dispute at all that we should try and reduce our carbon emissions. I am not a climate change sceptic. I am a solution sceptic. I don’t want one of the greatest historical documents of the entire world, our countryside, to be wrecked by an absence of will in planning. As a citizen, I have the right to demand a joined up energy policy not a piecemeal Heath Robinson one. And, indeed, a thoughtthrough attitude to the positioning of our industrial plant, not a chaotic free for all, however cool that may seem to some. Griff Rhys Jones.
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