Solar Farms and Battery Storage

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 8th June 2022.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 4:30 pm, 8th June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered planning for solar farms and battery storage solutions.

May I say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley? This is the first time it has happened to me, and it may well be a less pleasant experience than I am anticipating, but let us hope it all goes according to plan.

Let me divert any suggestion that may arise during the debate that I am somehow anti-solar, anti-renewable or anti-environmentalist. On the contrary, I suspect that everyone in the Chamber is a passionate environmentalist. I went to the first COP, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, as a special adviser, and I have been on the Environmental Audit Committee ever since. I am passionate about the north and south poles, which I have visited often, and where we can see the effect of climate change, and in every way I would consider myself to be an environmentalist. I would not want my credentials to be lessened by my remarks this afternoon, and I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members around the room feel the same.

I am proud of the fact that we have a proud environmental record in Wiltshire. We declared a climate change emergency in February 2019, and we plan to make the county carbon-neutral by 2030. Renewables play an extremely important part in that, and I am proud of the contribution that we have already made with regards to solar. For example, at the former RAF Lyneham in my constituency, we have a 250 acre solar farm with 269,000 solar panels, providing 69.8 MW —enough energy to power 10,000 homes as well as the base itself. That is not a bad way to do it, but the point is that it is entirely invisible. It is on the base, it is on former Army land, it is within the wire and it is entirely invisible to anybody nearby. Equally, RAF Wroughton, which is nearby, has 150,000 solar panels on 170 acres. A number of similar ex-military sites are invisible to the passer-by and are making a huge contribution to renewable energy. By contrast, at Minety in my constituency, planners recently agreed to a solar farm with 166,000 panels on 271 acres of agricultural land despite massive local opposition, which seems to go against what is said in the national planning policy framework. I will come back to that in a second.

What seems to be happening in Wiltshire, Dorset and one or two counties in the west country is that the grid is full in Devon and Cornwall. It is no longer possible to get a link from a solar farm to the grid in Devon and Cornwall, and developers have moved north. I am told that the connections to the grid in Wiltshire are nearly full, but that gives me little satisfaction, because the technology is moving so fast that the situation may well change in time. Secondly, even if Wiltshire became exempt, as it were, from further solar farms, all we would then do is move the blister further north or east, and many Members present would find that their constituents were being targeted just as much as mine are.

Right now, we have a gigantic number of applications in my constituency for solar farms—I know of at least four. Many of them would feature battery storage units, which are horrible, industrialised containers that often take up an entire field. There are some safety risks attached to them, as they burst into flames from time to time, so they are quite dangerous. They are turning a rural area into an industrialised centre, which is really unacceptable.