Last week we reported on growing concerns that the drive towards solar energy might take over agricultural land, which would possibly be a misallocation of resources. We gave the opinion that this was unfounded, since there was plenty of space on farms without having to use the fields where crops are grown. As luck would have it, the next day a story came out about the largest private installation of solar panels having been completed on the roofs of a farm near Glastonbury. With everything nicely tied up like that, it would be tempting to ignore the story coming out of Bristol today that there are plans to use agricultural land as a solar farm. But then, that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?
So yes, perhaps solar energy is becoming a bit of a cash crop. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Now, if we stopped growing food altogether in favour of producing solar energy instead, in the future we may have trouble if food imports were ever disrupted for any reason. Actually, if it came anywhere close to all of it, there would be a problem. Even if it was half, that would be bad. But we are nowhere near that number yet, and probably won’t get there. Is it always wrong to use any agricultural land for a solar farm? That doesn’t seem to be so, after all creating renewable energy is also a priority. Maybe not as much as being able to eat, but it is still important not only for this country, but for the planet.
So whether this is good news or bad news is up to you to decide, and in fact a decision is yet to be made. So far the project is only in the planning stage, with Sunlec, the renewable energy company proposing the build, having just submitted the proposal to North Somerset Council. They may choose to do an environmental impact assessment. One of the issues that will likely be considered is that, if the solar energy farm were to be built, it would be taking that portion (45 acres) of potential farmland out of circulation for decades at least. The decision can be made as to which is more important, in this specific case. Something else to be considered is that building the energy park will create jobs in the area, which in these economic times is also very welcome.
On the whole, the important thing is that the decisions made (there will undoubtedly be more in the future) as to whether to use agricultural land for crops or photovoltaic cells should be made considering short term benefits and problems, as well as long term advantages and disadvantages. It is difficult to see all eventualities of course, but as long as a long term benefit is not sacrificed entirely for short term gain, or a short term problem avoided by making an even bigger problem in the future, then the right decision will probably be made. We’ll keep you up to date on any developments.