Tildy Bayar, Associate Editor, Renewable Energy World
August 29, 2013 | 2 Comments
LONDON -- Recently published guidelines that the UK Solar Trade Association (STA) says its members will follow in building and managing solar farms have set out best practices for siting, land use and community engagement.
The “10 Commitments”, which the STA says were put together over a three-month period by leading solar developers, are based on the premise that solar farms “must be developed by listening to the concerns of the local communities, being sensitive to the landscape and protecting the ecological value of the land.”
Analysts believe the solar industry needs to act quickly in order to maintain a positive image and avoid being drawn into the ongoing controversy over onshore wind development in the country. Wind has become a political issue, with MPs representing rural areas speaking against it and, in response, a recent government announcement that communities will have the right to veto wind projects in their area. So far the debate over siting and visual impact has spread to include solar projects in some regions, but not at the same national level as wind.
However, popular national newspaper The Daily Mail has called “massive” solar farms a “blight” on the countryside and accused solar developers of building as large as possible in order to “rake in” money. The paper celebrated energy minister Greg Barker’s recent announcement that, in addition to the rules regarding wind, local residents will also be given the power to veto the construction of solar farms.
“Solar has a big bright future in the UK, but not in any place and not at any price,” Barker said in a statement. “I want UK solar targeted on industrial roofs, homes and on brownfield sites, not on our beautiful countryside. The public are rightly keen on clean solar power but we mustn’t lose that support by deploying enormous arrays in the wrong places. Our new planning guidance will make this crystal clear.”
Ray Noble, the STA's solar PV specialist, agrees with the minister and believes that “there will be a bigger push for [solar on] buildings” in the runup to 2020. The government’s plan for solar power, Noble said, includes a rough split into one-third of the total amount for rooftop solar, one-third for industrial and commercial roofs, and one-third for solar fields. He said project developers will carefully consider both size and orientation.
“When solar started in the UK the maximum size was 5 MW,” he said. “Now some projects are 30 or 40 MW. That’s ok if you’re in the right areas, miles away from any roads, housing, etc and the land has no agricultural use value – but there are one or two projects close to towns, and this needs to be thought through a bit more.”
Noble offered some insights on what's behind the 10 Commitments and why the STA believes they're necessary: