UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak intends to revive efforts to stop solar panels from being installing on British farmland. The move is regarded by many as the latest betrayal of the government’s environmental promises.
The government is anticipated to authorise planning officials to refuse new projects, including those related to renewable energy. Projects can be rejected if they are perceived to threaten food security, according to initial reports.
The government considers concerns over food supplies on par with energy security. Downing Street may cite food shortages in Europe and the Ukraine conflict to justify this decision.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey is reportedly in support of this move. Meanwhile, Buckingham MP Greg Smith is planning to outline these powers in the National Policy Planning Framework.
The new powers could also restrict housebuilding and other projects beyond green energy initiatives.
The solar industry appears less worried about these proposals compared to former Prime Minister Liz Truss’s attempts to limit panel usage on farmland last year. The plans were abandoned when Truss left office after criticism from the National Farmers Union.
These new plans have been known since December, when Smith negotiated with Levelling-up Secretary Michael Gove to prioritise food security concerns in the planning process. Nonetheless, the government remains committed to increasing solar power generation from 15 GW to 70 GW by 2035.
Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho recently confirmed plans to relax rules for businesses interested in installing more solar panels on their rooftops. According to Coutinho, this would offset the crackdown on rural solar projects.
At the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month, Coutinho stated that the new rural planning guidelines have already been finalised. However, a spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told City A.M. that consultations surrounding the guidelines are ongoing.
The opposition Labour Party is attacking the government for being insufficiently committed to clean energy. Shadow energy secretary and former Labour leader Ed Miliband promised that a Labour government would triple solar energy production earlier this week.