Opinions on Solar Farms: Is the UK For or Against?

Topic: solar projects Read Time: 6 mins
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Are you trying to gauge opinions on solar farms in the UK? We’re here to uncover the political and public views on solar farms that might just surprise you.

Although they haven’t been subject to quite as much debate as wind farms over the years, solar farms are still a hot topic in the renewables space.

For a start, they repeatedly popped up as a subject in the 2022 Conservative leadership race. Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss criticised the use of solar on agricultural land, dismissing them as a blight on the landscape.

But do these Conservative politicians truly represent the broader opinions on solar farms in the UK? Are the public truly as resistant to solar power as these political figures make out?  Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Whether you’re planning to place a solar farm on your land or are simply interested in learning more about renewables, we’ve got you covered. Not only will we run through political views on solar, but we’ll also discuss popular opinion (and how it might differ).

Now, let’s get down to business.

Political opinions on solar farms tend to be the most complicated, and they’re often quite split depending on a party’s overall objectives.

Although both the Labour and Conservative parties have preached a commitment to net-zero limits, what they actually practise can differ. To give you a decent overview on political opinions on solar farms, we’ll be running through public statements from party leaders and MPs to offer a wider look into the current state of affairs.

We’ll say that opinions on solar power aren’t necessarily split according to a party’s political beliefs. We’ll also say that the actions of some political figures are completely different from what their party’s manifesto states.

So, let’s dig a little deeper into exactly what the UK’s two main political parties think about solar power, shall we?

The Conservative opinions on solar farms are slightly tricky to understand. The beliefs of the average Conservative voter don’t necessarily match Rishi Sunak’s tough stance on onshore wind and agricultural-based solar panels.

As of 2023, Rishi Sunak has quite heavily u-turned on net-zero by delaying the go-ahead for a major solar farm and refusing to commit to HS2.

According to a solar energy boss interviewed by LabourList, the company is:

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Looking to raise billions of pounds of investment into the UK. Because of Sunak’s speech, I’m now having to fly across Europe to persuade investors not to divert the money to projects in the EU, because it now looks like a more stable and reliable market.

Judging by this quote alone, without any mass support from the government on solar, getting large investments for commercial-scale farms is going to be incredibly difficult.

The importance of the Conservative leadership race

It’s also worth noting that Truss and Sunak both came down quite hard on solar during the leadership race of 2022. Their comments were designed to attract votes from the controversial Not in My Backyard Crowd (NIMBYs). 

However, this short-sighted approach didn’t seem to account for the fact that 73% of Conservative voters actually support solar farms. If we dig more deeply here, we can also see that denouncing solar farms to such an extent is set to make the cost-of-living crisis worse.

This idea is supported by Andy Meyer (from the Institute of Economic Affairs) who states that:

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Both leadership candidates, by making a fetish of the Green Belt and hysterical opposition to local development, are likely to make the cost-of-living crisis worse.

The connection to the cost-of-living crisis might seem confusing, but let us explain why this aversion to solar is important.

By not supporting solar farms with enthusiasm, the Conservative Party are essentially driving up the price of gas. This is essentially because energy is linked to the price of gas in the UK. So, the more foreign gas we use over renewables, the more we’ll need to pay for our energy.

What else has Rishi Sunak said about solar panels?

Aside from his comments during the Conservative leadership race, Sunak has also planned to restrict the installation of solar panels on British farmland.

He mentioned this as recently as October 2023, and it’s set to have a huge impact on landowners wanting to make extra income from their land. This came after Liz Truss attempted to block solar from most of England’s farmland during her short stunt as Prime Minister.

Headshot photo of Rishi Sunak

Lydia Collas (a senior policy analyst at Green Alliance) has called this approach “gravely short-sighted.” And she’d be right, as increasing our use of solar energy would reduce the country’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels. When you pair this with Matt Hancock’s comments about solar farms often being proposed for “high-grade agricultural land,” it’s easy to see why progress is slow.

If you’re wondering just how slow, planning permission for 23 solar farms was refused across the UK between January 2021 and July 2022. This could have powered upwards of 147,000 homes a year, making it a massive potential loss for the country. The same research from Turley also suggests that only 4 projects were denied planning from 2017 to 2020 combined.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. In 2021, 20 solar farms were refused permission, while 254 were approved. So, it’s worth looking on the bright side.

Labour is largely supportive of solar farms and has denounced several of the recent Conservative comments on the matter.

They’ve criticised the plans that Liz Truss laid out during the Leadership race. They’re also hoping that solar will be a central pillar to boost the UK’s use of clean energy. They’re also hoping that the Contracts for Difference scheme can be reformed to encourage the building of more projects.

As well as reforming the Contracts for Difference scheme, Keir Starmer is hoping to:

Headshot photo of Keir Starmer.
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Back carbon capture, let’s invest in hydrogen, nuclear, tidal energy, double onshore wind, treble solar power, quadruple offshore wind and insulate 19 million homes

Labour also hopes to significantly reduce the planning time for renewable energy projects by tackling planning restrictions.

To further boost solar capacity by 2030, Shadow Energy Minister Alan Whitehead hopes to work closely with distribution operators. This should speed up Grid investment.

So overall, we’d say that the Labour Party is far more supportive of solar power than the Conservative Party.

Despite the Conservative party being cold towards solar energy, their average voter base is generally supportive of large-scale solar.

58% of people polled in a recent survey supported increased capacity for solar and onshore wind to reduce energy bills. Now, let’s look even further outward. It looks like over 80% of the general public would happily host ground-mounted solar technology in their local area. And only 3% of the survey participants said that they’d be strongly opposed to the idea.

This all but dismisses the claims from Sunak and Truss that they’re overwhelmingly unpopular.

In fact, Chris Hewitt from the Trade Association of Solar Energy UK puts the outcome of these results quite concisely:

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These results are another ringing endorsement of the UK’s fast-growing solar power sector. Whether slashing home energy bills, powering warehouses or mounted on land managed for sheep and wildlife, it is no wonder solar power has won the backing of British people. These figures also show how out of touch some MPs are with the public on solar farms. There are no more popular and low-cost ways to generate power than solar and wind

Now, this isn’t to say that there won’t always be some resistance from the UK public. After all, both solar panels and wind turbines do take up a decent amount of space on the landscape.

However, there isn’t a huge amount of negativity towards them from any subsection of the population. 

So, the “Not In My Backyard” resistance is hugely overstated.

Support for solar from the general public should eventually push the government to take action on a broader scale. However, Sunak’s resistance to renewable energy is proving difficult if we’re looking to see widespread change across the country.

It’s also worth mentioning that the UK simply won’t be able to meet its net-zero limits with its current approach. To do so, it would require significant changes to its climate policy. Part of this comes from government support, but it’s also down to planning permission guidelines. If guidelines remain as strict as they are, we simply can’t build enough projects to meet climate targets. 

So, it’s all food for thought.

Are you interested in getting a solar project on your land (or want to maximise returns from an existing one)? If so, get in touch. The Lumify Team can help you boost the rental income you’re receiving. We’ll also help demystify the process behind running a successful, long-term project.

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