I am aware that solar is one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation and it presents one important way to ensure our energy independence and green transition over the coming years. As part of the Energy Security Strategy, Ministers have been looking to increase the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity, which could grow up to five times by 2035.
To support solar deployment, the Government are consulting on the rules for solar projects. I understand that consultations will include changes to encourage deployment, while ensuring communities continue to have a say and environmental protections, including around land use, remain in place. I further welcome Government plans to review permitted development rights to make it easier for rooftop solar to be deployed on households, as well as public and commercial buildings. You can read more about this here.
There are several other initiatives that ministers have set out in order to achieve net zero by 2050, one of which is to increase the energy efficiency of houses, schools, hospitals and other buildings across the country – pledging £9 billion to the cause. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero announced a £562 million boost to make 50,000 households in social housing and domestic properties warmer and greener, including the installation of solar panels.
The Government is also extending the VAT relief available for the installation of energy saving materials (ESMs). This relief is being increased further by introducing a time-limited zero rate for the installation of ESMs. A typical family having roof top solar panels installed will save more than £1,000 in total on installation, and then £300 annually on their energy bills.
More specifically, the Government supported over 830,000 small solar projects through the Feed-in Tariff between 2010 and 2019. This has helped cut the cost of household solar panels by more than half since 2011. Now, through the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, households that use solar water heating could get money towards renewable heating costs in their home. I am pleased that more than £1 billion of the green recovery fund has been set aside to upgrade the efficiency of our buildings’ energy and heat. Additionally, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) supports small-scale low-carbon electricity generation. The SEG gives small generators, including homes with solar panels, the right to be paid for the renewable electricity they export to the grid.
While I believe that solar power is a key building block in ensuring that we meet this target, I do recognise that, in some cases, the deployment of large-scale solar farms can have a negative impact on the rural environment, including iconic landscapes and Areas of Natural Beauty. The National Planning Policy Framework - which sets out guidance to local planning authorities in England - is also clear that: “When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development”.
Where greenfield sites or high-grade land are used, developers are required to justify using such land and to design their projects to avoid, mitigate and, where necessary, compensate for any impacts. Projects can only proceed in very special circumstances which may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources. As such, Government guidance encourages local planning authorities to focus on using previously developed land and non-agricultural land for large scale solar farm development, so long as the land is not of high environmental value. Given that many solar farms are temporary structures, local planning authorities are also advised to ensure that land can be restored to its previous use.
Regarding the specific concerns you raise, while it is right that we try and see more solar farms across the country, the Government also recognises the need to protect our most valuable agricultural land so that it can produce food for the nation and increase our food security. Thanks to changes made by the Government, the planning system sets this out explicitly with a clear preference for brownfield sites.
Nevertheless, I would like to assure you that I will follow any developments and further announcements from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on this matter closely.
You can read more about my work on the environment here: