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Gloucestershire Business News

Farmers take a shine to solar

A spike of planning bids for solar farms in the Severn Vale could signal a 21st century gold rush as Gloucestershire farmers queue to sell or lease land and swap growing food for feeding the national grid.

The temptation to join the government's mission for sustainable energy has been powering up the soaring kWh business rate for electricity, with domestic rates climbing to an all-time high and business tariff values surging in 2022 from 15p kWh to 45p.

A Punchline probe into live planning applications before Stroud District Council reveals there are five existing bids awaiting decision. These include portions of farmland at World's End Farm, near the hamlet of Clapton, two neighbouring bids (from Ecotricity ) at Ham and Stone, for an area of fields at Whaddon, next to the M5's Gloucester Services. Two separate sites off Moreton Lane, near Whitminster, are also seeking permission.

Additionally, a bid was made for a solar park at Arlingham and submitted last April, but this has now been withdrawn amid concern from the Environment Agency that the area is vulnerable to flooding.

The average value for an acre of UK farmland in 2022 is between £7,500 and £10,000, with recent sales along the Severn suggesting firm interest: last month, Bruton Knowles  agreed a sale of 62 acres of arable land flanking the Severn at Purton, priced at a rate £10,000 per acre.

Applications for solar farms in the Severn Vale may be strengthened by claims of low environmental impact, given a report from academics at the universities of York and Lancaster. It suggests that in addition to producing clean energy, solar farms could offer a vital boost to rare species including moths, foraging bats and many species of birds. Solar farms can also, the report suggests, help reduce nitrogen loads and enhance pesticide filtration.

Pivotal to that, though, is stipulation that tree-rich hedgerows remain. Phil Dye, who worked as a tree officer for South Gloucestershire Council and who now runs Wotton Tree Consultancy, specialising in rural projects, warns that solar and trees can be a tricky mix: "an indiscriminate approach could be a risk to larger trees, given the shadow issue. Shade analysis has become crucial for ensuring a happy outcome.

And despite being low-lying, silent inoperation and necessitating very little traffic for maintenance, bids for the Severn's current crop of solar parks are certainly not uncontroversial. Some residents close to the local government administrative border between Thornbury and Berkeley are asking whether planning is joined up.

"[The park bids are] too large for a small community irrevocably changing our landscape and turning it into an industrial zone," says one complainant. "Are the two planning authorities even aware that the sites pretty much join up to create one mega industrial zone?"

Punchline says: "Growth has to be green and, in given today's economic and geopolitical instability, reliance on home-grown energy is vital. We're glad to see these bids for what is essentially a way of making energy that's clean, sustainable and, in the event of superceding technology, can be easily removed. What's your view? Contact mark@moosemarketingandpr.co.uk to add your voice to the debate!

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