When wind energy became the bogey-man of the renewable sector, as the turbines got larger and the number dotting the beautiful landscapes of the Westcountry increased, solar power began to look like the less controversial alternative. How times change.
As the Western Morning News reports today, opposition to solar farms is growing as the size of the installations expands. Andrew Rowson of the Exeter University Centre for Energy predicts that opposition to solar energy will grow as public patience with the technology and its impact on the landscape runs out. He is right.
Already, as we have reported, communities facing the prospect of large-scale solar farms on their doorstep are starting to protest. And when renewable energy companies are putting in applications for fields full of photo-voltaic panels covering more than 200 acres, it is hardly surprising.
At the Western Morning News we have been able to monitor the public’s response to renewable energy projects over a number of years. There has always been a level of hostility based on the impact that subsidies for renewables are having on power bills. But opposition becomes much more focused and much stronger when specific areas of the countryside are seen to be at risk. We saw it with the move to much larger wind turbines in the 1990s and applications for more extensive wind farms, like Fullabrook Down, in the first years of the 21st century. We are seeing it once again now that solar panels have grown from rooftop installations that blend into the background fairly easily to large-scale developments in which farmland is given over to fields full of the shiny black panels, all pointing skywards.
It is a problem the proponents of renewable energy are going to have to tackle if they are to be successful in getting permission to continue with the developments. Because no local authority – and ultimately no Government – is going to sanction these large-scale blots on the landscape without broad public support, whatever the planning guidelines say.
There is great potential, particularly in Cornwall, to develop solar power and, despite the cuts, generous subsidies are still available. In the end, however, installations that are acceptable to the majority, of a size, scale and location that people can live with, are what is needed. That must be the future focus of this fledgling industry.