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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.
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.”
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. 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.”
Queensland plan to dump dredge spoil onshore ‘will not harm wetlands’ | #Australia #Environment #Queensland
Deputy premier Jeff Seeney says despite conservation group’s concerns, nationally significant wetland will be preserved.
Abbot Point, near Bowen in Queensland. Photograph: AAP/Greenpeace.
Australian Associated Press.
A controversial plan to dump dredge spoil onshore will not damage nationally significant wetland, Queensland’s deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, says.
Three million cubic metres of dredged material linked to the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen in north Queensland was destined to be dumped in waters off the Great Barrier Reef.
But a backlash against the plan, which had gained federal approval, prompted the state government to endorse onshore dumping instead.
Seeney says the strategy has been submitted for federal government approval.
“We are confident that, if approved by the commonwealth, we can have state-owned land ready to receive dredge material for when licensed dredging activity begins next March,” he said in a statement.
But the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation project could be delayed by green groups, which have launched federal court proceedings challenging the environmental approval validity.
The Mackay Conservation Group secured more time in late September to put its case to the court, initially due at the end of October, saying there was uncertainty around the onshore dumping plan.
The group remains opposed to dredging, saying onshore dumping will damage a nationally significant wetland that is home to several threatened species.
Documents submitted to the commonwealth on Friday state that if approvals are not granted “in a timely manner”, the spoil could be dumped at sea.
“Project proponents that need to dredge at Abbot Point will have no option but to dispose [of] material in the [Great Barrier Reef] marine park in accordance with existing approvals,” the document said.
Seeney said the wetlands would be preserved under the onshore dumping strategy.
“We are inviting the local community and environmentalists to work with us to restore freshwater flows to degraded areas of the wetland, expand its area and consider access points for the general public to boost tourism activity in the area,” he said.
Ministers reject 40,000 objections to allow fracking below homes without owners’ permission.
by Damian Carrington.
Prime minister David Cameron during a guided tour of the IGas shale drilling plant near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/PA
Fracking will take place below Britons’ homes without their permission after ministers rejected 40,000 objections to controversial changes to trespass laws.
The UK government argued that the current ability for people to block shale gas development under their property would lead to significant delays and that the legal process by which companies can force fracking plans through was costly, time-consuming and disproportionate.
There were a total of 40,647 responses to a consultation on the move to give oil and gas companies underground access without needing to seek landowners’ permission, with 99% opposing the legal changes. Setting aside the 28,821 responses submitted via two NGO campaigns, 92% of the remaining responses objected to the proposals.
The government response to the consultation, published online on the eve of the parliamentary vote on military strikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, concluded: “Having carefully considered the consultation responses, we believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.”
New laws will now be passed giving automatic access for gas and oil development below 300m and a notification and compensation scheme will be run by the industry on a voluntary basis.
Should fracking trespass laws be changed?
“It is essential that we make the most of home-sourced energy and start exploring the natural energy supplies beneath our feet. As the cleanest fossil fuel shale gas provides a bridge to a much greener future,” said a statement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. “By removing barriers to deep underground drilling access, we are speeding up oil and gas and deep geothermal energy exploration. ”
The Conservative energy minister, Matt Hancock, said: “These new rules will help Britain to explore the great potential of our national shale gas and geothermal resources, as we work towards a greener future – and open up thousands of new jobs in doing so.”
“This is an important day for the future of energy supply in the UK,” said Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry’s trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG). “Landowners on the surface will not notice this underground activity [usually a mile deep] and it will have no impact on their day-to-day lives.”
But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This sham consultation exposes the government’s disregard for the growing public concern about the major environmental and health risks of fracking. The decision to deny people the right to say no to fracking under their own homes is outrageous. It shows that ministers are putting the greed of oil and gas companies above the public interest in tackling climate change.”
Simon Clydesdale, from Greenpeace, said: “The roar of opposition to this arrogant policy is deafening, yet ministers are determined to blithely ignore what the overwhelming majority of the British public thinks and wants. There will be a hefty political price to pay for this massive sell-out to the narrow interests of the shale lobby.”
Friends of the Earth’s Jane Thomas said: “This government seems hell-bent on fracking irrespective of widespread opposition. You’d think with a general election approaching politicians would listen to public opinion and get behind the popular energy solutions of cutting waste and backing renewables.”
The changes to the trespass laws were also criticised by Scotland’s energy minister Fergus Ewing: “UK government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes, without so much as debate in the Scottish parliament, flies in the face of Scotland’s cautious, considered and evidence based approach on this issue. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.”
In January, another controversial pro-fracking legal change was passed in the face of overwhelming public opposition. The change, which ditched the requirement to notify homes individually of future shale gas operations, was criticised by a Lords committee as having been rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Fracking companies will still need to obtain regulatory permissions, such as planning and environmental permits.
Earlier in September, the planning committee of the South Downs National Park Authority voted unanimously to reject an application by Celtique Energie to undertake exploratory drilling as a precursor to fracking at Fernhurst in West Sussex.