Sanity: Subsidies for solar farms to be cut to help safeguard farmland

New rules will ensure more agricultural land is dedicated to growing crops and food

solar-and-wind-energy

Farmers will lose their right to claim subsidies for fields filled with solar panels under new plans to ensure more agricultural land is dedicated to growing crops and food. The move will help rural communities who do not want their countryside blighted by solar farms.

Britain has some of the best farmland in the world and ministers want to see it dedicated to agriculture to help boost our food and farming industry that is worth £97 billion to the economy.

The change, which will come into effect from January 2015, will mean that farmers who choose to use fields for solar panels will not be eligible for any farm subsidy payments available through the Common Agricultural Policy for that land.

Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss said:

English farmland is some of the best in the world and I want to see it dedicated to growing quality food and crops. I do not want to see its productive potential wasted and its appearance blighted by solar farms. Farming is what our farms are for and it is what keeps our landscape beautiful.

I am committed to food production in this country and it makes my heart sink to see row upon row of solar panels where once there was a field of wheat or grassland for livestock to graze.That is why I am scrapping farming subsidies for solar fields. Solar panels are best placed on the 250,000 hectares of south facing commercial rooftops where they will not compromise the success of our agricultural industry.

The subsidy change will also save up to £2 million of taxpayers’ money each year that won’t be available for these subsidies. The reform follows other government measures designed to end support for solar farms in agricultural fields. The Department for Energy and Climate Change recently announced that renewable energy subsidies for new large-scale solar farms will end next April. This year, the Department for Communities and Local Government amended planning rules to ensure that whenever possible solar installations are not put in fields that could be used for farming.

The changes the government is making are expected to slow down the growth of solar farms in the countryside in England. There are currently 250 installed, with the biggest covering as much as 100 hectares. Under previous plans, the number of fields dedicated to solar farms was set to increase rapidly, with over 1,000 ground-based solar farms expected by the end of the decade across the UK. These changes should help to halt this expansion as it will now become less financially attractive for farmers to install the solar panels.

The decision is part of a drive by environment ministers to ensure that the new Common Agricultural Policy delivers maximum benefits for the English food and farming industry, as well as providing greater benefits for rural communities, the environment and wildlife.

Find out more about how the new Common Agricultural Policy is being implemented in England.

(h/t to WUWT reader “brokenhockeystick”)

 

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63 thoughts on “Sanity: Subsidies for solar farms to be cut to help safeguard farmland

  1. Much was made of Liz Truss’ cutting of the solar farm subsidy at the weekend and early this week.
    But the only subsidy she is proposing to remove is the single farm payment, worth (from January) around £90 per acre. Alongside the revenue produced by an acre of solar panels, that’s barely even a drop in the bucket.
    According to John Drew, of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, “a 250kW system covering about an acre will cost between £250,000 and £300,000 and will provide an income of between £36,000 and £48,000 per annum depending on levels of on-site usage”. Using average figures of £275,000 and £42,000, that will give a payback period of just over six and a half years, and loads of lovely dosh thereafter. The difference that Ms Truss’ much-trumpeted subsidy change will make is to increase the pay-back period by five days!
    For her to imply, as she does, that this is going to have a significant impact on the area of farmland disappearing under solar panels is, quite simply, ludicrous. It won’t make a blind bit of difference.
    One change which might have slightly more effect was the recent Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) announcement that it intends to cut subsidies for solar installations of more than five megawatts as from next April,
    Read more at http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Anthony-Gibson-Cuts-solar-farm-subsidy-largely/story-23329735-detail/story.html#6myMAALod4FbQwOl.99

    • Once an agricultural allotment ‘farms’ solar panels in lieu of food crops or cattle, it ceases to be an agricultural endeavor and becomes an industrial endeavor. All agricultural subsidies including fuel rebates should then be forfeited.

    • To be fair to her though, she works for DEFRA and not DECC so all she can do is to reduce/remove the payments/subsidies for which she is responsible. Unfortunately, of course, DECC is run by Ed Davey, who is as mentally challenged on the subject of CAGW as his predecessor, convicted criminal and proven liar Chris Huhne, although (probably) not as bent.

      • Absolutely correct. Both are Liberal Democrats, a political party that is, in the area of CAGW, as green as any Green Party..

    • I challenge your numbers. The installation costs are about right, but the revenue generated per year is wrong, closer to 5000 rather than 42000 in the UK where it is often cloudy. The systems will reach end of life before they ever reach break-even! Even in a sunny desert break-even takes 15-20 years. The UK is not a good place for solar farms!

  2. Hard to decide what’s the biggest con . . . the global warming scare or the common agricultural policy.

  3. Same thing has been happening in California – agricultural counties where farmers have stopped planting and errected solar panels to make more money. At this point I believe that some of the CA ag counties have passed restrictive laws to stop this transformation.
    Itenerant workers were being put out of business

  4. During WWII The UK was in dire straights when German U boats prevented food from the colonies getting through.
    With a massive effort from the women folk, the land was reunited with its primary value of crop growing.under the “Land Army”.
    Good to see sanity returning – self sufficiency in food should be a major platform for all countries.
    And energy should be generated without ever taking a close and critical eye from ROI,
    So-called Greenpower?
    Only if and when it makes true economic sense and right now it is sending the country even further into becoming a backwater -with no environmental change for the better whatsoever.

    • You’re right, I’ve been saying this for years. All countries should have the capacity to be self-sufficient in food – in case of some natural disaster. Britain is blessed with land that gets a mix of sunshine and rain, so we’re ideally placed. To cover any of that land in solar panels that could go on factory rooftops is madness. There are UK companies with huge metreage of roofspace available, especially some of the car-manufacturing companies.

      • I agree wholeheartedly Big Jim’s ghost. It’s frustrating to see these large surface areas of factory buildings being used for nothing when they would be ideal sites for not only solar power, but also water collection and hot water generation. People outside the UK may be puzzled that we do have water shortages, which is nothing to do with the amount of rain we get, but relates to how we manage our water supplies.

      • If it were cost effective they’d probably being doing it already without prompting so it must not be cost effective.

  5. The comment I sent has disappeared ?? will try again
    Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!
    so where is it ???
    Is Mr Mann mann-ipulating data again ??

    • Something you said triggered the spam trap. Best thing is patience, the mods are pretty diligent about fishing the comments back out and posting them, but they can’t do it in real time.
      Good comment by the way, always helps to have local perspective with more details. As usual, the politics and the real world turn out to be substantially different.

  6. Much was made of Liz Truss’ cutting of the solar farm subsidy at the weekend and early this week.
    But the only subsidy she is proposing to remove is the single farm payment, worth (from January) around £90 per acre. Alongside the revenue produced by an acre of solar panels, that’s barely even a drop in the bucket.
    According to John Drew, of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, “a 250kW system covering about an acre will cost between £250,000 and £300,000 and will provide an income of between £36,000 and £48,000 per annum depending on levels of on-site usage”. Using average figures of £275,000 and £42,000, that will give a payback period of just over six and a half years, and loads of lovely dosh thereafter. The difference that Ms Truss’ much-trumpeted subsidy change will make is to increase the pay-back period by five days!
    For her to imply, as she does, that this is going to have a significant impact on the area of farmland disappearing under solar panels is, quite simply, ludicrous. It won’t make a blind bit of difference.
    One change which might have slightly more effect was the recent Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) announcement that it intends to cut subsidies for solar installations of more than five megawatts as from next April,

    • Precisely. The rents being offered to landowners for solar parks are in the region of £800-1000/acre/year, index linked for 25 years. The loss of £90/acre/yr in agricultural subsidy (which might disappear entirely anyway within 25 years) is going to have zero impact on landowners decisions on whether to put solar panels on their land or not. It is a purely cosmetic change.

  7. I spent some years as a civil servant and I can see right away that this is a face saving scheme. With the wind out of their sails, they really want to back out of a lot of this nonsense but don’t want to say it was a blunder directly. It ain’t really about good old English cucumbers. I would be a little teed off if I had make a lawful investment in this silliness and they just cut me off. Surely the farmers in question will ask about compensation. What if they had stripped off the top soil which would have been a sensible idea for installing the damn things. And solar panels in themselves are a stupid idea for a climate like the UK’s. Maybe they should have invented panels that ran on kinetic energy from falling rain.

    • If you are going to make an investment that is only viable because it is propped up by taxpayers’ money, then you have to be aware that the money tap might be turned off. There have been quite a few ‘green’ funds on offer recently that are offering a return of 5% – way above bank account savings rates – but my concern about investing was how quickly could I bail out once the windmill subsidies are cut once they are seen to be unaffordable. So I decided the leave them alone. Therefore, I don’t see why they should have any right to compensation unless the signed a government contract that guaranteed a certain return. Drax got caught out having decided to convert to burning biomass based on subsidy, before they could complete all the conversion, the subsidy was cut and they lost a subsequent court battle.

    • I am just absolutely gob-smacked by the thought that anyone would think solar panels are economically feasible in the UK. I lived there from 1985-1987 (RAF Greenham Common). Cold wet, no sun, is all I remember, between the CND “women” throwing paint at us as we went out to Salisbury Plains for training exercises with our missile launchers.

      • Well, I can vouch for the fact that the weather here is, on balance, rather good. Sometimes we have a few weeks of rain on and off. but then we can have a few weeks of glorious sunshine too. We get many summer days where the temperature is in the upper 20s (that’s around 80F for you US people).

      • Ahem! There’s only one Salisbury Plain!
        Also, 1986 was a pretty good summer – my son was born in June of that year and my then wife found that life at 8-9 months pregnant with temps in the 80s was a big struggle. You must have been trucking your conveys around at night.
        As an aside, he was born in an RAF hospital (Princess Margaret at Wroughton) and while waiting for the birth, I saw a Chinnook landing outside the hospital. It was only when I saw the crew disembark that I realised how monumentally huge those things are.

      • Ah, I remember those women oh so well! I always did wonder who funded them & where they got their money to stay there for so long! I seem to recall them upsetting local residents by peeing & crapping in their gardens for convenience! I wonder if they are still there, despite the fact that the base ceased to be military years ago & became an industrial centre!

      • Alan the Brit
        The funding would not – of course – be from the imploding Soviet Union. Mr Brezhnev [of distant and unpleasant memory] – and his protegees, Chernyenko [spelling maybe a bit off!], perhaps?? though they had the KGB Tsar Andropov about that time, too, running things on the end of a flex from a cardiac ward – like Leonid B, and Konstantin C] – and successors were too busy trying to compete militarily with USA, which did not ‘pretend to pay the workers, who, symmetrically, pretended to work’.
        Didn’t Oxfam’s fraternal organisation, Russfam, send canned Bulgarian cabbage for the striking miners – or the delightful, even fragrant, ladies of Greenham Common? Or might it have been turnips? Or did that come from ‘Dear Bill’ [about volumes 3-5]?
        Did they even have watermelons in those days?
        Mod – Very tongue in cheek – if not quite /Sarc.
        Well – OK – a bit /Sarc.
        Auto

  8. Is anyone aware of a formal study where a utility has considered using rooftops in lieu of open land? The utility could own the panels, plan accordingly, and control accordingly therefore including all normal considerations of the grid. The personal property rights would be the main issue to address, leaving out if there should be subsidies for solar at all.
    Thanks,

  9. May I suggest the title be changed to:
    Sanity: Agricultural Subsidies for solar farms to be cut to help safeguard farmland.
    The solar subsidies will continue. The sanity is limited apparently to eliminating a double-dip into the subsidy trough.
    You can grow crops and get an agricultural subsidy,
    You can row solar panels and get a solar subsidy.
    I wouldn’t be surprised you can grow a massive lawn and get a green space subsidy.
    The sanity, if you can call it that, is that they are limiting one to a customer.

  10. While at first glance this seems to be a reasonable policy, it is actually quite unfair. Are landowners now serfs? If agricultural products are worth less than the subsidized price they could be receiving, why should the government be able to disallow the owners choice, forcing him to the less lucrative option?

    • why should the government be able to disallow the owners choice, forcing him to the less lucrative option?
      Why should the government give any option at all? A subsidy is a transfer of wealth from the general tax payer to the farmers. If the tax payers are subsidizing the farmers, they get to decide what they are willing to subsidize, and what not to. The farmers aren’t serfs, they are business owners. If subsidies were available for planting rubber ducks in the spring and then digging them up in the fall to store for the winter, they’d run the numbers just like any other business, and if that was the maximum profit they could achieve from the crop options available, that’s what they would do.
      Are you going to argue that they should have the option to plant rubber ducks and collect subsidies as well? Of course not. Subsidies distort the market and create behaviour that would otherwise not have happened. If the tax payer is shelling out for subsidies, the tax payer gets to decide what sort of behaviour they are going to pay for.
      Nothing unfair about it.

  11. Yes, factory roofs are just the ticket!
    “We may very well not be able to save buildings that have alternative energy,” William Kramer, New Jersey’s acting fire marshall, said after Delanco Fire Chief Ron Holt refused to send his firefighters onto the roof of the 300,000-square foot Dietz & Watson facility, ablaze since Sunday afternoon.
    Perhaps the subsidies will pay for the extra insurance?
    http://www.nj.com/burlington/index.ssf/2013/09/dietz_and_watson_warehouse_fire_solar_panels_make_battling_blaze_much_harder_officials_say.html

  12. Interesting psychology at play.
    They don’t dare say that they are cutting subsidies because solar farms are a dumb idea.
    But they’ve thought of a viable excuse; the loss of viable farm land, so they’ll cut subsidies to solar farms to save the farm land for farming.
    Hubris prevents them from saying they were wrong all alolng, to put up such high subsidies for solar farms in the first place.

  13. The simple question can be asked. What is the comparative efficiency of energy conversion and net economic return after capital amortisation, maintenance and and operating costs of a solar farm vs a food producing one.
    Alternatively why don’t we just inject greenies with large qualtities of chlorophyll and stake them out in a desert?

  14. Wondered if anyone could help here? We use around 16,000 kWh a year, that’s an average of 44 kWh a day. If we were to switch to solar panels, how many (in square metres) would be need to provide all of our electricity? Thank you to anyone who could provide an answer.

    • Hi Jim, we have had 12 panels installed on our roof which is 4 less than the maximum for FIT payments. It supplies us with more than enough power, the excess being sold to the grid, It also well worth considering solar powered hot water generation which cuts down our power bills drastically for a much lower cost outlay.If you have PV panels installed, make sure you get the most modern type where each panel is managed individually with information sent to your WiFi system on performance. You can then check in detail how much power you are using vs power being generated. Anthony inspired me to install them and I must admit that I am extremely pleased with the system and thank him every time we have negative energy bills.

    • I am not an expert on this, but the short answer is that due to the intermittancy of solar and the high latitude location of the UK where winter days are short and solar power is weak, you could never be self sufficient.
      Where I am in Spain, a small set up is considered to be about 3.6kWh, an average set up around 4.8 to 7.2 kWh. These are peak efficiency figures, ie., sun at its zenith and perpendicular to the panel. There are steerable systems that pan and arc to maximise the efficiency of the incoming solar, but fixed panels do not have that advantage.
      Assuming say 10 hours of sunshine, and that is a lot to assume (even in Spain where there are some 330 sunny days per year and on most days not a cloud in the sky), given that the bulk of that sunshine will not have the best grazing angle, and early morning and late afternoon sunshine will be weak, a 4,4kWh system would, THEORETICALLY, at peak efficiency (which will not be the case for the entirety of those 10 hours) provide 44kWh, ie., the amount you require on the basis of your daily usage.
      The problem is, of course the sunshine hours, and the efficiency of solar during say October to April when you probably use most energy.
      According to Wikipedia, England receives on average 1492 sunshine hours annually, that is just over 4 hours per day. In May through to August, the monthly average is a little under 190 hours, ie., about 6.2 hours per day. But between November to February inclussive the sunshine hours are down to just 1.97 per day!
      Of course that is England as a whole, in the South, the figures would be better, but even if the South receives 50% more than the average for England as a whole, one can immediately see the problem in trying to go off grid in the UK.
      The position is very much like Windfarms with their nameplate capacity. If you wanted to go off grid, the limitation is the months when you have the highest daily use, and the least quality sunshine.
      There is no good quality sunshine in winter (due to the low grazing angles), but even if you assumed that you had on average 2 good hours per day, you would need a 22kWh system (with good battery storage). But of course, in winter your daily usage would be more than 44kWh, so even that would be insufficient to go completely off grid.
      That is why people have a system where by they feed into and use the grid. It would be prohibitively expensive to go off grid in the UK.
      A far better option is solar water heating, this only requires low grade energy, and may be with the right system in summer, all your daily needs could be met.

      • Hi Richard, you are right about solar hot water, it gives the best return for an investment, but I would add that a couple of hours of sunshine even in Mid winter still supplies a pretty good amount of hot water. In summer it will produce far more hot water than you can ever use. Between the first of September and today our 12 photo voltaic panels have generated 455 kilowatt hours of energy, thats enough to run a lightbulb for 12 years or run a fridge freezer for 3 months to put it in perspective. The new generation of panels are much better at converting overcast days into power, and they produce power whether you are at home using power or not. It’s worth researching.

    • Depends on how much sunlight you get. And that depends on where you live. I’d start with this site: http://www.nrel.gov/gis/data_solar.html
      If you lived in Azusa I could extrapolate from my system’s performance to get a balllpark guess of needing a 10KW system, and figuring the required area for whatever panels were proposed.
      But we don’t have any ghosts around here, so I doubt you’re in the vicinity….

  15. “Find out more about how the new Common Agricultural Policy is being implemented in England” Good grief, when will Americans learn that England is not the UK? .These CAPs are being implemented across the UK. Generally speaking EU membership is popular in 3 out of the 4 UK countries. If you continually describe the UK in terms of England it gives a very distorted view. It would be like us describing everything in the USA in terms of Texas. It’s really not a difficult concept!

    • I agreed with you up to “describing everything in the USA in terms of Texas.”
      England has a population of 53.9 million.
      Scotland has a population of 5.3 million.
      Wales has a population of 3.1 million.
      Northern Ireland has a population of 1.8 million.
      From the BBC reporting the Office for National Statistics
      Culturally, the UK is not represented by England. But in terms of population it is a good rough estimate..

    • London has a population of – depending on your estimate:
      Lower-end; immigration minimising – say 8,5 million;
      High-end; [see e.g. http://www.citypopulation.de/world/Agglomerations.html ] 14 million [rank =22 worldwide, equal to Istanbul].
      I suggest that the higher estimates for London will have a proportionate impact on the overall UK population, so if 14 million, probably the UK is >66 million.
      [For Reference the agglomeration of Tokyo is about 39.4 million [same source], and USA’s biggest – New York – has a consolidated urban area of about 21.8 million, and is ranked at #11, just behind Mexico City, the biggest [@ #10, that source] outside Asia.].
      So – at about 10-11 million (my lower-end guess, living here) is as much as, or more than, Scotland, Wales, & Northern Ireland aggregated.
      They’re beautiful, with some wonderful people – but are they densely populated? – no.
      Auto

  16. Can we get the same deal in Southern Ontario? NOW? They have 77 600-foot monsters planned right where I live- 8 of them within a mile and half of our home.

  17. In 1940 with a population considerably less than that of today, we were obliged to dig up parks and other parcels of wasted land and to protect huge convoys of merchant vessels against the uboats in order to provide the meager basic rations upon which we all just about survived.
    Now we cover the land with solar and allow an annual flood of immigration that in any adversity that curtailed the importation of food, starvation on a grand scale would ensue.
    In 1914 we were led by donkeys but in 1940 by a lion.
    What confidence could we place today in the know nothing career politicians that, like scum on soup tether rhan cream on milk, have risen to the top?

      • meltemian
        October 24, 2014 at 4:31 am
        May I suggest a Parliament of Lice?
        Or maybe a Lounger [of incipient memory].
        Auto

  18. But the UK government is giving more grants to community projects for putting windmills and solar panels on community land and buildings. The harvesting will continue.

  19. Gareth Phillips
    October 24, 2014 at 1:50 am
    How about you Gareth, do you know the loss of food producing land in the UK ?

    • Hi Stephen, It depends on a number of issues such as the land quality. The price of land in the UK is rapidly rising due to the fact that it is only the UK and Ireland which allows non-citizens to own land. The owners can also pass on land without having to pay death duties. This results in a much greater competition from foreign investors increasing the value of UK land. When I worked for the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge during the 80s land prices were relatively low. EU interventions and investment has since substantially increased the value of land and wealth of farmers. I do not know how much land is taken up by solar farms ( That is why I asked the question) but from such a figure correlated with land quality and non-use from investments we could make a rough guess as to how much food producing land is lost to solar farming. It may be that it is a lot less than loss to other forms of energy production.

  20. And at what angle are all the solar farms we see. I have only observed panels at around 30 degrees from horizontal and not the more realistic 45 degrees. Can anyone tell us why?

    • What latitude are the solar panels at?
      Power (PV arrays?) or hot water collectors?
      If hot water collectors, hot water for a swimming pool in the summer, in the winter, or for daily house hot water all year or for household heating – but only in winter?
      What is your cloud cover at the site? Mostly clear skies, or very frequent cloud cover?
      Fixed array, right?
      Single axle tracker rotating every hour?
      Single axle tracker, but moving only each week or each month?
      Double axle/motor continuous tracker on each panel??

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