Solar Farms and Battery Storage

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:58 pm on 8th June 2022.

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Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn 4:58 pm, 8th June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank my hon. Friend James Gray for securing this important debate, which gives me the opportunity to speak about solar. I, too, would like to stress that I am not anti-solar or anti-renewables and I am not anti the environment. I have the privilege of being the Member of Parliament for a beautiful rural constituency. The subject of planning for solar farms is incredibly important to rural communities.

As the MP for Ynys Môn, the island of Anglesey, I represent communities particularly concerned about the threat of mega solar farms on our landscape, our culture and our heritage, in particular a proposal by Lightsource BP for a 1,200-acre solar farm on Anglesey. Yes, that is correct—1,200 acres. To put that huge amount of land into some perspective, it is equivalent to around 900 football pitches. It is the largest project in Lightsource BP’s development portfolio.

Our island community, like other rural communities, is under threat from a slew of solar proposals. Smaller applications are managed by the Isle of Anglesey County Council, with local councillors representing the views of the community. It has rejected some previous applications, including one for a 200-acre site near Cemaes. However, larger applications are considered by the Welsh Government, who are six hours away in Cardiff, and local communities are concerned that that will take large-scale development decisions away from them.

In 2019, 27% of energy in Wales came from renewables, of which solar formed a very small proportion. In recent months we have all felt the problems caused by being dependent on other countries for our energy. Like the Welsh Government, we are fully behind the move to net zero, and we recognise that renewables must form part of our future energy strategy.

We must implement solar with extreme caution. For developers, it is an attractive solution, as land is relatively cheap, solar panels can be imported at low cost, and there is minimal upkeep and maintenance, which means that little local employment is generated. That must be balanced against the energy generation capacity. The huge 1,200 acre solar farm proposed by Lightsource bp for Anglesey would generate enough energy for 133,000 homes. A new nuclear plant such as Hinkley C in Bridgwater has a small fraction of that footprint, but with the potential to generate energy for 6 million homes.

There is another, possibly more important, consideration. Ynys Môn was known historically as Môn Mam Cymru—Anglesey, mother of Wales—because our fertile agricultural land fed the Welsh people in times of need. We need a strong agricultural community, and it is those great swathes of fertile, historical agricultural land that are particularly attractive to solar farm developers. Earlier this year, FarmingUK wrote that the UK is on the verge of food security concerns not seen since world war 2, and in 2020 the UK imported 46% of the food we consume.

I hope that the Minister will take on board the risk that, in the rush to achieve net zero, however laudable, we may sacrifice vast areas of agricultural land, and hence our food security, to solar panels, which do not offer the dependable, large-scale solution we need to the energy crisis.