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Griff Rhys Jones attacks green energy ‘desecration’ of countryside

The comedian Griff Rhys Jones has accused the government of “random desecration” of the countryside and despoiling “pristine landscapes” through its subsidies to wind turbines and solar power.

Responding to criticism of his objection to a solar farm near his home in Suffolk last week, he said it was “not really a Nimby issue,” that he was not a climate sceptic and he thought the UK should be powered by new nuclear reactors, not renewable energy.

“We surely need better solutions to global warming than randomly scattered whirly-gigs [sic], and thousands of acres of glinting solar panels, however soothing to our consciences,” he wrote in a letter to the Guardian.

Jones has criticised wind turbines as “green tokenism” in the past but his new broadside ups the temperature and broadens his criticism to taxpayer support of green energy, the planning system and the reliability of wind and solar power.

“[The] government is hiding behind subsidy-hunting free enterprise. The result of this has been and is random desecration, with little or no accountability,” he said of windfarms that he felt were badly sited. He also suggested the intermittent nature of renewable energy undermined its environmental credentials. “How can we effect [sic] to be green, when we use gas from uncertain fossil fuel driven sources as back up? It is logical to ask why we are assaulting our shrinking countryside in the name of this apparent hypocrisy.”

A “distorted” planning system was failing to protect green spaces, he added, but “aiding and abetting an exponential grab at the countryside.”

Instead of solar power, which “doesn’t operate” at night, he said he would like to see more nuclear power, such as two new planned reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, because it would cut carbon emissions, provide more power than solar and had a small physical footprint. “I am not a climate change sceptic. I am a solution sceptic,” he said.

Jones has emerged as one of the most prominent celebrity opponents of renewable energy. He is not the first well-known TV personality to do so – in 2004, Noel Edmonds gave his backing to anti-wind campaigns following plans for windfarms near his home in Devon.

A spokeswoman for trade body RenewableUK said: “RenewableUK has always advocated a balanced mix to decarbonise our power system and achieve security of supply. The benefits of this can be seen for example when Sizewell B was offline for several months and wind generated the equivalent of electricity for 400,000 homes annually. While no power source generates for 100% of the time, therefore back-up is needed on the system, every unit of wind produced saves us burning polluting imported fossil fuels.”

Adam Royle, a spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that solar farms were of increasing concern to its members. “Solar energy has a role to play in helping the UK to meet its renewable energy targets, as part of a mix of renewable technologies. However CPRE’s members and supporters are increasingly concerned about the size and scale of some proposed solar parks, and the impact they could have on the landscape. Applications that would take high grade agricultural land out of productive use are particularly concerning. There is a vacuum in planning policy that the government needs to address so that solar farms do not spoil the countryside, are directed to brownfield sites and are of appropriate size and scale.”

Jeremy Leggett, whose comment article in the Guardian Jones was responding to, said: “I’m glad that Griff’s whole belief system on energy is out in the open now. It’s more useful to have these kinds of debates in a holistic context. Let’s see how his case fares in reversing the opinion polls that show big majorities of people favouring ‘scattered whirly-gigs, and glinting solar panels’, and believing – as the Germans are showing every day – that in fact they do a rather good job of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.”