An epidemic of ‘solar farms’ will only worsen food insecurity

The rise of solar farms is a rare and under-appreciated problem in Britain. This was the topic of a Westminster Hall debateWednesday, opened at 11:59 by Tory MP Brendan Clarke Smith

Solar panels are planned to cover thousands and thousands of acres in arable farmland all across the country. As renewable energy companies look to expand their reach, local authorities from Harrogate to Hampshire have been overwhelmed by planning applications.

It is alarming to see the number of solar farms being built in the country. There are currently 910 possible solar farms in the UK. The number is expected to rise by approximately a third by 2021. More than 300 applications for planning approvals have already been submitted. And that’s a cause for concern.

For example, take Bramley and Silchester in Hampshire. There is plenty of land available for food production. It is classified as Grades 1 & 2, which means it is highly productive farmland. Enso Energy wants to convert 200 acres of the six-field site into a new enormous solar farm.


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The area, encompassing Silchester’s Church Lane Farm and Bramley’s Vyne Lodge Farm, is equivalent to 140 football pitches. If planning permission is granted by the twelve members of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Development Control Committee, it would become the fifth largest solar farm in England and the largest in England on agricultural land.

Where so often politics has a problem with short-sightedness – focussing on the immediate consequences of a policy, to the detriment of the longer-term implications – in this case, the issue is reversed.

It is long-sighted to push for solar farms. It envisions a future when solar power technology has been developed to such an extent that it has begun replacing fossil fuels. This would free us from the geopolitical problems of oil and gas imports, and bring us closer towards net-zero carbon emission.

While this may be part of our long-term vision, even the most dedicated renewable energy advocates don’t believe we are there yet. The technology required to produce and store enough electricity from renewable sources to power Britain would be too expensive and logistically difficult to implement right now.

We must stop pretending that we can switch the National Grid to renewable energy sources tomorrow if we are determined enough. We can’t. We won’t be able to, no matter how much we might not like. The government’s target is to make the switch to renewable energy sources by 2035 – and even that has been decried by many as wildly over-optimistic.

Why is it that we are willing to give up large swathes farmland that could be used for solar power? It will not only fail in climate change mitigation, but it will also increase food insecurity.

Food prices are going through the roof. Prices on supermarket shelves are rising due to a combination if supply chain issues and inflation. To make things worse, Ukraine and Russia are two of Europe’s biggest crop exporters.

This will have a significant impact on the cost of food in this country and cause many production delays and import jams for basic foodstuffs in Britain. These new issues will add to the existing problem with food insecurity and the adverse effects of the cost–of-living crisis.

It is becoming more apparent than ever that we need the British farming sector as a support system for our food needs. That doesn’t mean becoming entirely self-sufficient and cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world – but it does mean having as much of a safety net as possible, so that war breaking out on the other side of the world does not result in struggling families in this country suddenly being unable to put food on the table.

It is irresponsible to give up so much of our farmland for the sake of a well-intentioned, but doomed-to fail attempt to save the planet. Solar farms will only exacerbate the food insecurity crisis.