Proposed solar farm restrictions would slap £5bn energy bill on UK households
Image credit: Istock
UK households face a collective £5bn energy bill if the government pushes through with efforts to block large-scale solar farms on agricultural land, analysts have said.
The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), which based its findings on an analysis of the government’s 70GW solar energy target, said this is equivalent to up to £180 per UK household per year.
It is estimated that between 24GW and 39GW of the target in England is likely to be generated by ground-mounted solar panels. But proposed amendments to the Energy Bill suggest placing further restrictions on solar farm developments, following moves by the Liz Truss government to effectively ban them last year.
If the amendments were successful, energy costs for bill-payers could be between £3bn and £5bn higher each year, as the electricity would probably be produced using more expensive gas instead.
At the top end, this is equivalent to gas required to heat around 6.5 million homes for a year.
According to the International Energy Agency, the cost of solar has plummeted in recent years because of rapid improvements in panel technology. These improvements see a higher percentage of sunlight being converted into electricity. In the early 1980s, the average cost of solar panels was around $30 (£24) per watt. Today, it is less than $0.50 (£0.40) per watt – a 98 per cent reduction in cost over just four decades.
Tom Lancaster, land analyst at the ECIU, said: “There has never been a cheaper form of energy than solar, and putting even more barriers in place to its roll-out will cost the public dear, whilst locking in dependence on imported gas.
“This makes little sense when new solar farms will only need a tiny fraction of the available farmland, presenting no real risk to food security whilst providing a major boost to Britain’s energy security.
“Solar farms can also lead to real benefits for nature, with wildflowers planted amongst the panels and thick hedges creating new habitats for birds, whilst screening the visual impacts of the development. And food production can also continue in many cases, with sheep and other livestock able to graze underneath and between solar panels, allowing farmers to double up on sources of income.
“With farmers seeking to diversify revenue streams in face of volatile prices and increasingly extreme weather, red tape to halt solar farms would be anti-growth for the rural economy.”
Recent polling found that 80 per cent of people have a favourable opinion of solar energy, and the same percentage would support it being built in their area. A similar percentage of MPs (78 per cent) were also favourable, but 30 per cent thought more of their constituents would oppose solar rather than support it, suggesting that they underestimate the level of support for solar in their constituencies.
Previous ECIU analysis found that between 7GW and 22GW could be generated from rooftop solar, leaving between 38GW and 23GW to be generated by ground-mounted solar.
Between just over 40,000ha and 70,000ha of land would be needed for meet the UK’s solar target, or between around 0.5 and 0.7 per cent of English farmland.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.