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Are solar farms really hitting British food production? #SolarFarms


Environment secretary Liz Truss has cut solar farm’s subsidies saying they harm food production, but most UK solar farms successfully produce food as well. Karl Mathiesen investigates.

Sheep remain an essential part of this solar energy farm at Wymeswold in Leicestershire, and the panels even provide shelter for the animals. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/Christopher Thomond.

Karl Mathiesen reporting,

The environment secretary, Liz Truss, has stripped farmers of subsidies for solar farms, saying they are a “blight” that was pushing food production overseas.

But the new minister has fundamentally misunderstood the way solar farms operate, according to the solar industry and farmers.

Truss revealed on Monday new rules on payments under the Common Agriculture Policy that will see agricultural subsidies removed from solar farms. She said: “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.”

Truss told the Mail on Sunday that 10,000 football pitches of panels were “in the pipeline”. She said solar farms were “ugly, a blight on the countryside, and villages are pushing production of meat and other traditional British produce overseas”.

But farmers who run solar farms said Truss’s justification for removing the subsidies was flawed. First, almost all solar farms in the UK continue to produce food. Second, solar farms provide farmers with a way to diversify their income – helping them to stay in business.

“It seems a shame that people aren’t becoming informed before they make judgments,” said Clive Sage, who has a 4.8MW solar farm on his property in West Dorset and continues to produce prime lamb from beneath the panels. “As times have moved on, as a small family farm, we’ve had to diversify to survive.”

He said this government had originally encouraged farmers to diversify their income streams through solar farming.

But Truss’s move showed that the government did not understand the issue. “It’s nonsense for anyone to say that you can’t use land for solar production and agricultural production. The sheep compliment the solar really well. For them to pull the rug out, I don’t really think this government understands the word sustainability.”

“It definitely helped us to survive,” says Andrew Hawkey of his 5MW solar farm in North Cornwall. Hawkey’s family have been farming his land for four generations. “We are committed farmers, we are Cornish farmers and we want to stay farming.” For the Hawkeys, there was never a choice between farming food and farming sun. His solar fields are also still used to produce lamb.

“There is virtually no loss [of production] at all. We could almost say we are farming double on the same land,” he said. Originally the land had seen a rotation between crops and pasture. The only change was that now the land was solely used for sheep grazing. He said the solar panels had offered an unexpected benefit as they provided shelter for animals during the winter months.

Sample of UK Solar Farms

Farmer Edward Packe-Drury-Lowe’s property currently houses the largest solar farm in the UK at Wymeswold. The disused airfield was previously used for grazing sheep and cattle and growing oilseed rape. Packe-Drury-Lowe said the sheep remained an essential part of his farm.

He said there is anecdotal evidence from some farms that solar can actually provide a boost to the production of lamb because of the shelter provided by the panels. He says stopping crops that use pesticides also had an immediate effect. “If you look at the biodiversity, the bees, insect life, the gain is almost instant.” This boost has a knock-on benefit to all farmers in the area.

Former energy secretary, Chris Huhne, told Newsnight on Monday that Truss’s prioritisation of food production over energy made little sense. “We import our energy and we import our food, so frankly, saying that we should make less energy so that we don’t have to import apples seems to me to be nuts.”

Whether a net loss of food production occurs depends largely on what was being farmed before. This is governed by the government’s planning guidance, which already stipulates that land for solar farms should preference “previously developed land, and if a proposal does involve greenfield land, that it allows for continued agricultural use and/or encourages biodiversity improvements around arrays”.

Communities minister Kris Hopkins said planning provisions were already in place to ensure productive farmland remained unadulterated. “The guidance is clear that councils must protect good-quality farmland and consider the effective use of brownfield land.”

The solar trade association’s advice goes further, recommending highly productive crop land be avoided and only land graded 3b, 4 or 5 be developed for solar farms.

It appears that some farms, including Hawkey’s which was built before the guidance came in around 18 months ago, have been placed on higher grade agricultural land. But the Solar Trade Association (STA) says this no longer happens at any of the projects they manage.

Solar farms do limit what can be grown on the land. In some cases, sheep alone have replaced a rotation of sheep, cattle and crops. But it is unclear whether this reduces the overall productivity of low grade land. Conversely, there are examples, such as the 14 MW solar array at Marsh Farm, where a solar farm on previously unused land is now running livestock for the first time.

The solar industry, whose farms were consistently attacked by the Consevative MP and former climate minister Greg Barker, were incensed by another Tory minister coming out in opposition to solar farms. Leonie Greene, from the STA, said Truss’s comments were “damaging and incorrect”.

Greene said: “The land is still available for farming – the solar fixings only take up 5% of the land. This means plenty of room for continued agricultural practices such as sheep, geese or chicken farming. As far as farm payments are concerned, solar should really be treated in the same way as orchards or fields with trees, where animals continue to graze the land in between.”

Toddington Harper, from solar operators Belectric, said: “I think [Truss] has completely misunderstood the benefits. She’s said we are taking land out of food production, which we are not. What else would you expect from a [former] oil executive?

Harper said all 10 of Belectric’s solar farms are still farmed for food and that the planning advice simply needed to be enforced. “She should be saying that every solar farm must continue agricultural use. It’s happening most of the time but if it happens all of the time time that would be marvellous.”

London Greens councillor Jenny Jones said Truss’s suggestion to the Mail on Sunday that orchards were being replaced by solar farms was “total nonsense”.

Jones said: “This misguided attack by the environment secretary deliberately ignores the fact that the planning system is already there to prevent unsightly and overly dominant solar farms or their deployment on high-quality productive agricultural land. Where they do go ahead on poorer grade soils, planning conditions should ensure that they boost biodiversity and revert back to their original use when appropriate.”


The Guardian.

#UK farmers warn of #pumpkin crisis in runup to #Halloween


Growers say this has been worst pumpkin season in a decade with hundreds of vegetables left rotting in fields after wet weather.

An estimated 10 million pumpkins are grown in the UK every year – 95% will be carved into lanterns for Halloween.An estimated 10 million pumpkins are grown in the UK every year – 95% will be carved into lanterns for Halloween. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA

 Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent,

UK farmers and producers are warning there could be a shortage of pumpkins in the runup to Halloween, with hundreds of thousands rotting in the fields following the wet weather having to be pulped rather than heading for the supermarket.

Growers said this year has been the worst pumpkin season in a decade, citing Lincolnshire as the most affected area, where dwindling supplies would run out by the end of this week.

But supermarkets sought to play down suggestions of a shortage, saying that shoppers wanting to buy pumpkins ahead of Halloween next Friday would not be disappointed.

Halloween – imported from the US – is a major money-spinner for supermarkets and is the UK’s second largest retail festival after Christmas. An estimated 10 million pumpkins are grown in the UK every year – 95% will be carved into hollowed-out lanterns for Halloween and 5% will be used for soups, stews and pies. Demand from retailers has soared by 35% this year as the annual festival gets ever more popular.

Jim Meer, director of fruit and vegetable supplier Barfoots, said: “The 2014 season has been extremely challenging for the supply of pumpkins into the UK market. The recent weather has made harvesting conditions extremely difficult and with increased demand and lower yields it’s a juggling act to ensure our retail customers are getting sufficient stock through to fulfil the demand in store.”

He said his company was taking the unusual step at this stage in the season “of now ceasing supply to wholesale customers which will unfortunately cut off supply for the smaller independents. With the other suppliers in Lincolnshire facing worse issues we are doing what we can to cover the inevitable stock shortage in the lead up to the main Halloween celebration.”

After good, sunny, growing conditions in August and September, the heavy rain of October has made pumpkin skins soft, he said, which means that with extra humidity they get soggy and collapse before they are harvested. On some farms JCB diggers are being used to remove the wasted crops.

One Lincolnshire-based farmer, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s the worst I’ve seen for a decade. It’s a very short harvesting season of three to four weeks but it is a write-off for 2014. The weather has made it impossible to harvest the crop in the field and what is coming out is neither up to the appearance required by the retailer or the quality to last through until Halloween. Our forecast is very bleak and I cannot see supply lasting further than the weekend.”

Waitrose said there might be supply problems in the north of England, despite a plentiful crop of giant and carving pumpkins following an increased level of rain and higher temperatures. A spokeswoman said: “As pumpkins continue to grow based on the volume of water they have access to, the giant pumpkins continue to absorb as much water as possible – this has resulted in a larger than normal percentage of pumpkins seeing levels of breakdown.”

The picture was better in the south, she said: “Reports from our southern producers (based along the south coast, Southampton and the Isle of Wight) have seen a very different story to our northern growers in Lincolnshire. Our southern growers have enjoyed warmer weather earlier in the growing season – this inevitably results in smaller, green pumpkins turning orange before they have fully developed, this then creates an abundance of carving pumpkins available, rather than the giant pumpkins.” Waitrose expects to sell 12% more carving pumpkins than last year.

Sainsbury’s said it expects customers to buy almost 1.5 million pumpkins, with just over one million likely to be sold in the week running up to Halloween. To avoid pumpkins going unnecessarily into landfill, the company will be educating shoppers about disposal – including using local authority composting facilities or composting at home – while customers in 10 trial stores will be able to return their pumpkins to store to be composted by its waste partners Biffa.

In the south-west, Barry Loudhrey, director of Over Farm Market in Gloucester, said growing conditions had been good, and his farm expected to sell 12,000 pumpkins between Halloween and Christmas. “This year we have an abundance of large to extra large pumpkins as well as small ones. We find the interest generated at Halloween makes people more interested in cooking with pumpkin.”


The Guardian.

#Ikea kitchens help sell #insulation to Dutch – and #UK could be next


Dutch consortia Energiesprong could give zero carbon retrofits to social homes across England, using innovative wrap-around insulated panels, if EU funding is approved.

Dutch energiesprong (‘Energy Leap’) pilot project in Tilburg in the Netherlands.Dutch energiesprong (‘Energy Leap’) pilot project in Tilburg in the Netherlands. Photograph: Rogier Bos/Energiesprong

Arthur Neslen reporting,

More than 100,000 homes across the UK could be given a carbon-neutral retrofit by 2020 if the EU approves funding for a ground-breaking green social housing project this month.

The first pilot projects are due to start within a year on council estates and housing association properties in London, Birmingham and southern England and are set to save 1,950GWh of electricity.

The Energiesprong (Energy Leap) initiative involves completely wrapping houses with insulated panel-facades that snap on like Lego. Insulated roofs adorned with 24 high-efficiency solar panels each are fastened on top, while heat pumps, hot water storage tanks and ventilation units are stored in garden sheds.

On the Woonwaard housing estate near Amsterdam, tenants whose homes have already received the upgrade say that the final effect is like living inside a ‘tea cosy’.

“This new house is great,” former social worker Astrid Andre, 58,told the Guardian. “You can’t hear the traffic from outside anymore. It feels as if I’m living in a private home, rather than social housing. Before, the wind used to go through the house in winter. I have arthritis and when the weather was colder, it became worse. But my bones are better now, more supple.”

Former social worker Astrid Andre, who lives near Amsterdam, says that both noise and draft levels have improved since the retrofit.Former social worker Astrid Andre, who lives near Amsterdam, says that both noise and draft levels have improved since the retrofit. Photograph: Arthur Neslen for The Guardian

The programme has already won a contract from the Dutch government to provide a wave of 10-day makeovers to 111,000 homes on estates mostly built in the 1960s and 70s. It is now bidding for €10m (£787,671) from the EU’s Horizon 2020 money pot to extend the project to the UK and France.

Partners in the bid to bring the Dutch Energiesprong consortia to the UK include the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), The Housing Finance Corporation (THFC) and the National Federation of Housing Associations (NFHA).

“The Netherlands has a head start but the basic logic is the same,” said Jasper van den Munckhof, Energiesprong’s director. “If you have political will, government support, and a housing association sector that can put up a strong volume for conceptual development, then there is a profitable case for builders to step in.”

Materials used for wall isolation in renovated houses by Dutch Energiesprong in Arnhem.Materials used for wall isolation in renovated houses by Dutch Energiesprong in Arnhem. Photograph: Frank Hanswijk/Energiesprong

The deceptively simple idea behind the initiative has been to finance the roughly 300,000 mass-produced renovations from the estimated €18bn of savings from energy bills that they will make each year.

In the Netherlands, upfront capital comes from the WSW social bank, which has provided €6bn to underwrite government-backed 40-year loans to housing associations. These then charge tenants the same amount they had previously paid for rent and energy bills together, until the debt is repaid.

The prefabricated refurbishments come with a 40-year builders’ guarantee that covers the entire loan period, and a 5.25% return is guaranteed to participating housing associations.

But the renovations can only be done if all tenants in a block agree to it, and that spurred the invention of an unlikely environmental incentive: free bathrooms, fridges and Ikea kitchens, with electric cooking.

“Everyone has been talking about it since last December,” said Bianca Lakeman, a 32-year-old office worker and single mother on the Woonwaard estate. “They’re saying how the front facade is very modern but most of all they are talking about the beautiful Ikea kitchens.”

Tenants can choose the kitchen’s colour and design and, because the construction companies are contracted to provide maintenance for the next four decades, the new installations work out cheaper than the anticipated costs of servicing mid-20th century kitchens into the mid-21st century.

“When we started, there was a period where not everybody was keen,” said Marnette Vroegop, a concept developer for the Woonwaard housing association. “The main doubts were about whether it was realistic.”

Pierre Sponselee, director of Woonwaard housing association.Pierre Sponselee, director of Woonwaard housing association. Photograph: Arthur Neslen for The Guardian

“There is one block of six houses here and one person still says no,” Pierre Sponselee, the association’s director said. “The man had lived here only for a year and came from another house where he’d had a renovation and he didn’t want another one. It is a pity for the rest of the neighbours.”

Minor complaints from tenants about the refurbishments have included noise from garden shed installations and increased awareness of internal house sounds, as floorboards become proportionately louder when outside noises are muffled.

Bianca’s block is due to be renovated this month in the latest construction round on the estate that will see another 50 zero energy homes created. “I’m very excited about it because it can keep my cost of living under control and reduce the effects of climate change,” she said.

Around 40% of Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions come from heating and lighting in buildings and the EU has set a zero energy requirement for all new house builds by 2021. But these only make up around 1% of the continent’s housing stock and how to persuade the construction industry to renovate to new and untried standards had been a vexed question.

With support from the Dutch government, Energiesprong dangled the carrot of secured long-term contracts for a market of up to 2.3m homes, and then asked a depressed construction sector what solutions they could come up with.

Energiesprong renovated building in Groningen.Energiesprong renovated building in Groningen. Photograph: Rogier Bos/Energiesprong

The result was the beginnings of a reindustrialisation of the Dutch building sector, with construction companies taking 3D scans of houses to offer factory-produced refurbishments tailored to each house’s dimensions.

“We have to think like a manufacturer,” said Joost Nelis, the director of BAM, the Netherlands’ biggest construction company. “We want to shrink the garden power units like Apple did the iPad,” Nelis says.

The company is also experimenting with apartment blocks run on DC electricity, which increases solar panel efficiency by about 30%. Almost all buildings in the Netherlands run on AC, but few tower blocks have room for enough solar panels to generate electricity for more than five floors of homes.

While trade unions have enthusiastically signed up to Energiesprong, energy companies that use fossil fuels could lose out on the gathering transformation, according to Nelis. Tenants in places such as Woonwaard can already sell their excess electricity back to the grid and may one day be able to use electric cars to power their homes.

Ambitious though it is, Energiesprong says its programme of building renovations should be seen as a means to a low-carbon transformation of the building sector, rather than an end in itself.

Last week, a similar deal was signed with the Netherlands biggest mortgage banks, real estate surveyors and government, to take the project into the private sector too.


The Guardian – Environment.

Lego ends Shell partnership following Greenpeace campaign | #Greenpeace #Lego #Shell #Arctic


Toymaker will not renew current multimillion pound deal, that sees Shell-branded Lego sets sold at petrol stations, following a viral video against Arctic drilling by the green group.

Mini activist figures at a Shell gas station in Legoland in Billund, Denmark, part of a global campaign targeting Lego and highlighting Shell’s plans for Arctic oil exploration. Photograph: Uffe Weng/GreenpeaceMini activist figures at a Shell gas station in Legoland in Billund, Denmark, part of a global campaign targeting Lego and highlighting Shell’s plans for Arctic oil exploration. Photograph: Uffe Weng/Greenpeace

Adam Vaughan reporting,

Lego will not renew its marketing contract with Shell after coming under sustained pressure from Greenpeace to end a partnership that dates to the 1960s.

The environmental campaign group, protesting about the oil giant’s plans to drill in the Arctic, had targeted the world’s biggest toy maker with a YouTube video that attracted nearly 6m views for its depiction of a pristine Arctic, built from 120kg of Lego, being covered in oil.

Initially Lego had resisted Greenpeace, arguing that it ought to deal directly with Shell, but on Thursday it will relent. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, the toy maker’s chief -executive, said Lego would honour its existing deal with Shell, which began in 2011, but “as things currently stand we will not renew the contract with Shell when the present contract ends”.

Lego toy sets are currently distributed at petrol stations in 26 countries, in a deal valued at £68m. Lego had previously argued that the relationship had a positive impact on the world by inspiring children with its toy sets.

Greenpeace activists also targeted Legoland in Windsor by dressing as Lego figures, while the campaign video, entitled “Everything is not awesome” attracted 5.9m views.

Greenpeace video calling on Lego to end its partnership with Shell

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the response from the public to its campaign had been extraordinary in terms of scale and -creativity. “It did touch a bit of a raw nerve about the partnership between the two companies that people thought was completely inappropriate – for a toy company like Lego to partner with an oil corporation – which is a sign of changes that are happening [in public attitudes towards fossil fuel companies],” he said.

He added that he hoped the move by Lego would prompt other organisations that work with Shell, such as London’s Science Museum, where Shell sponsors a climate change exhibition, to think twice about their partnerships.

“Clearly Shell is trying to piggy back on the credibility of other brands. It’s a good PR strategy if you can get away with it. But as we’ve shown, if you can’t get away with it, that social licence is taken away. It does damage them a lot,” he told the Guardian.

Knudstorp, CEO of the Lego Group, said in a statement on Thursday: “The Greenpeace campaign uses the Lego brand to target Shell. As we have stated before, we firmly believe Greenpeace ought to have a direct conversation with Shell. The Lego brand, and everyone who enjoys creative play, should never have become part of this dispute between Greenpeace and Shell.

“Our stakeholders have high expectations of the way we operate. So do we. We do not agree with the tactics used by Greenpeace that may have created misunderstandings among our stakeholders about the way we operate, and we want to ensure our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences.”

A spokesman for Shell said that the company enjoyed a successful and productive relationship with Lego. Of the Greenpeace campaign, he said: “We respect the right of individuals and organisations to engage in a free and frank exchange of views about meeting the world’s growing energy needs. Recognising the right of individuals to express their point of view, we only ask they do so in a manner that is lawful and does not place their safety or the safety of others at risk.”

In January, Shell shelved its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic this summer, citing poor market conditions and internal failures. But in August, the company submitted a new offshore drilling plan to US authorities that could pave the way for the company to explore for oil in the Arctic in 2015, off the coast of north-west Alaska.

A Shell oil drilling rig which ran aground in Alaska on 1 January 2013. Photograph: Rex FeaturesA Shell oil drilling rig which ran aground in Alaska on 1 January 2013. Photograph: Rex Features

Mark Borkowski, a brand consultant and founder of PR company Borkowski.do , said the co-promotion with Lego would have had “huge value” for Shell. “Kids have a very honest and pronounced view on things such as the Earth and animals. I wondered why Lego with such a strong brand and such dominance would get into bed with Shell,” he said.

“Greenpeace have done an outstanding job, to apply the pressure. This is a wake-up call to oil and gas and other energy companies, that need to recognise they cannot lobby the [younger] generation that is going to inherit the Earth. Their spin machines need to wake up to that.”

Lego’s partnership with Shell dates to the 1960s and has involved Shell-branded toy sets being sold around the world.

The Danish company prides itself on its green credentials, from energy efficiency to the use of renewable energy, and says that it is looking for alternatives to the crude oil from which it currently makes its bricks.


The Guardian.

Naomi Klein: UK fracking trespass law flouts democratic rights #Fracking #TrespassLaw


Recent changes to the law, enabling companies to frack beneath landowners’ properties without their permission, have fuelled resistance to fracking in Britain, says author and activist.

Naomi Klein speaking to Owen Jones about her most recent book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate at a Guardian Live event.Naomi Klein speaking to Owen Jones about her most recent book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate at a Guardian Live event. Photograph: Guardian talks

Adam Vaughan reporting,

Ministers’ rewriting of the law to allow fracking to happen beneath people’s homes without their permission flouts basic democratic rights, according to Naomi Klein.

The author and activist said that the UK government’s changes to trespass laws, to speed up the ability for shale gas companies to frack beneath landowners’ property, was energising resistance to fracking in Britain.

“What is animating the anti-fracking movement? Yes, it’s water. It’s also a defence of democracy. The fact the government is colluding with energy companies to force the right to frack underneath people’s homes without their permission flies in the face of the most common-sense definition of democracy and self-definition,” she told an audience at a Guardian event in London on Monday.

A consultation over the summer on the trespass law found that 99% of the 40,000 people who responded objected to the changes. But government officials said they would go ahead with the law change, as “no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.”

Naomi Klein discusses her most provocative book yet, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.

Klein, whose new book addresses how capitalism is holding back efforts to tackle climate change quickly enough, said that shale gas and oil companies were being met by a global movement whose growth was incredible.

“The movement against fracking has been heroic. We are starting to see the kind of resistance where people have those stakes you’re talking about,” she told the event’s chair, Guardian columnist Owen Jones. “People get involved in fighting fracking not because of climate change but because they’re worried about their water. Water is what unites so many of these movements, whether it’s against tar sands, pipelines or fracking, coal mining, it’s water and love of place.”

Klein highlighted the series of climate marches around the world in September, which saw more than a reported 400,000 people out in New York and tens of thousands in cities including London, Paris and Melbourne, as a cause for hope. “I was tremendously gratified by what just happened in New York.”

She said it was not just the scale of the march in New York that had impressed her but the diversity, made up of local communities who had been hit by superstorm Sandy, indigenous people fighting tar sands developments, anti-fracking campaigners and what she described as the first time the Labor movement was out in force, calling for job creation in response to climate change.

“To me, it was not just the size of it, this march had a quality to it that I’d never seen at a mass environmental demonstration,” she said, adding to applause: “I think we need to be very clear about this – the only way you can win against forces with a huge amount to lose is to build a movement of people, many more people, with a huge amount to gain.”

The author also argued that rallying around action on climate change would be one of the most powerful ways to tackle austerity, by creating a case for investment in low carbon infrastructure from public money and taking energy ownership away from the ‘Big Six’ energy companies who she said had failed the UK. “This is our chance to liberate ourselves from the brutalising logic of austerity,” she said.

“Climate is the big tent we’ve been waiting for, and why wouldn’t it be, the atmosphere is the biggest tent of all, we’re all under it and we need to start acting like it.”


The Guardian.

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