November 26 2013. As solar farms begin to play an important role in addressing the UK’s electricity needs and aiding the drive towards cheaper, cleaner electricity bills for the consumer, this maturing industry now plays a vital role supporting the economic stability of the agricultural sector and creating full time employment for local communities.
Mark Turner, Operations Director for Lightsource Renewable Energy comments, “By March 2014, we will have to manage over 4,000 acres of land responsibly and sustainably. That’s twice as much land as surrounds Blenheim Palace! You could think of us as a new breed of tenant farmer, and the biggest challenge for us is that our land is spread across the entire width and breadth of the United Kingdom. Contrary to the unfounded opinions of some, solar farms do not harm the land they are installed upon. In fact they safeguard it for future generations and provide further options for farmland diversification like grazing small livestock or providing an ecological habitat for rare birds like the English Grey Partridge”.
Lightsource Renewable Energy, the UK’s leading solar energy generator, today announces it is undertaking a large recruitment drive across the UK, creating full time positions local to where their operating solar farms are based. The company has already created over 150 full time jobs in the UK in just 3 years.
Mark continues to elaborate, “Not only are we responsible for the maintenance and care of our solar farm infrastructure, we are responsible for land management activities as well including weeding, planting and ensuring any stock proof fencing is kept in good order. “We are kick-starting this initiative with 15 full-time positions first and many more will follow. These new specialist maintenance jobs are created in the towns or villages near our operational solar farms and therefore benefit the local economy directly. We’re currently looking for experienced electricians with a real passion for renewable energy and the desire to be part of a great British success story. We want to show local communities that solar farms have huge tangible benefits aside from the clean electricity they generate. Some of our plans include our own livestock like sheep and also harvesting wild flower seed as there is a great shortage of indigenous seed in the UK. All these activities require expertise, we will have to hire more local people to make this happen and this announcement of 15 jobs is only the beginning.” Mark concludes.
One farmer was discussing this with someone the other day, who felt quite strongly that solar farms were a bad thing for UK agriculture, the environment and food production, until the first suggested the following:
1)These have only a 30 year planning approval, after which they’re returned to farmland.
2) One of our biggest problems with continuous arable farming is the depletion of topsoil through organic matter loss and erosion. Essentially these solar farms represent a 30-year fallow during which time they’ll only receive light grazing or be left for wildlife and no compaction or cultivation, giving soils chance to build up organic matter and fertility.
3) What is the difference between harvesting the energy as direct solar into electricity and growing wheat to put through a bioethanol plant and producing animal feed as a by-product? Apart from you not having to use fossil fuels to harvest, cultivate, fertilise and transport the energy in the case of solar (one difference is bioethanol is storable, whereas solar power is not).
4) In terms of land use we’re not continuously cropping all available land as it is, mainly because the rise in value of the land is more than the income derived from farming it. If this takes some land out of production that can only be a good thing for the viability of producing food from the remaining land. I think it will present some real opportunities to new entrants and have significant benefits for wildlife.
There are a number of pending planning application here within East Sussex – Arlington, Berwick, Ringmer and Isfield. But today, the Government has announced big changes the tax incentives which will move in favour of offshore wind generation. Will this change the fields of play?