Solar industry pledges best practice for siting farms

Solar farm developers have pledged to avoid siting projects on landscapes that are protected or that have high agricultural value, as part of a new best practice guidance document.

The pledge is part of the guidance drawn up by trade body the Solar Trade Association (STA), which has published ten commitments that its members should comply with in the construction and management of solar farms.

These also include a commitment to minimise visual impact by screening fields of solar panels with vegetation and engage with the local community in advance of submitting planning applications.

The industry will also encourage land diversification by proposing continued agricultural use or incorporating biodiversity measures such as planting wild flower meadows, the guidance says.

The guidance has been developed with the National Farmers Union and has the support of several environmental campaign groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace and the National Trust.

The solar industry has started to face criticism as solar farms have become more common. In a debate in Westminster Hall in July, Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, said: "It is hard to convey the scale of these projects, or how much they cause devastation to the landscape; people have to see them to understand why communities are so worried about them".

However, a poll commissioned by the STA found that 67 per cent of people support solar farms. Support rose to 71 per cent when the ten commitments were described.

Ray Noble, solar PV specialist at the STA said that most solar developers have constructed farms sensitively but "a few companies have come into the country and have developed where they shouldn’t have, such as on hillsides".

The STA hopes that if its members can show that following best practice helps them obtain planning permission, the other companies will follow, Noble said.

Research centre the National Solar Centre will soon publish technical guidance to help planners know what to ask developers and it is running a series of roadshows for planners in the autumn.

The guidance can be read here.

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