Solar Farms in Stratford District

A number of solar farms are proposed in Stratford-on-Avon District. A proposal for a 50 MW farm at Bishops Itchington was rejected, and a solar farm proposed at Crimscote farm is opposed by an organised campaign. Other proposals include a farm between Harbury and Southam. We believe the need for solar farms is very clear.

Why We Need Solar Panels

The Crimscote farm would add renewable capacity of 48 MW, which would boost the District’s renewable energy by over 50%. It would provide enough electricity for over 14,000 homes – likely enough for the whole of Stratford town.

According to the IPCC, we need to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions over coming decades, in order to stand a chance of remaining within 1.5ºC. Even at this temperature we will see more extreme droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes and floods than we are already seeing. 

To reduce our emissions, we not only need to source our existing electricity supply from renewables (currently 42%). We also need to generate much more electricity to replace the fossil fuels currently used in vehicles, industry, and the heating of homes. 

According to the author Chris Goodall, electricity currently supplies less than 20% of our energy needs, around 300 TWh. About 80 TWh comes from wind, solar and other renewables (excluding biomass). For these additional purposes, we will need to be able to generate around 1450 TWh, around 20 times our current amount. This will require 460 GW capacity of wind and 260 GW of solar power. 1 GW is 1,000 MW, whereas the solar farms we are talking about produce around 50 MW each. So we need a lot of solar farms. 

The Arguments Against Solar Farms

Emissions: Those opposed to the farm have argued that the carbon savings from solar should be balanced against the carbon footprint caused by importing food. In fact, emissions from food transportation depend on how the food is imported: if by land or sea, rather than by air, they are not that big (see Mike Berners-Lee’s book, There Is No Planet B). Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the site has been or will be used to feed local people, in the absence of this development.

If we compare the likely emissions savings from the solar farms, and the emissions possible from food imports, it becomes clear the solar farms are a massive net winner. Emissions savings from the farm can be estimated at 20,591 tons CO2e per annum. Importing food equivalent to these fields’ produce from Europe would produce around 119-475 tons C02e by ship or 500-1,251 tons by truck. Even importing from New Zealand would only produce 1,034-5024 tons CO2e, but this would not happen as the New Zealand growing season differ from that of the fields in question. See here for a detailed calculation of these estimates.  

Food security: Campaigners worry about ‘taking land out of food production’, but land is taken out of food production for house-building all the time. We are also on the brink of a food revolution, with climate and weather-pattern changes, the need to reduce agricultural emissions (transition to plant-based diets, and local, organic production methods), and new technologies (vertical farming, lab-produced food) converging to presage a total transformation of the sector. 1/3 of our food production is currently wasted, and one study suggests 75% of land could be freed up by adopting a plant-based diet. Viewed in this context, the fate of these few, grade 3 (91% 3B) fields seems rather insignificant.

One of the few angles from which the farm will be visible, 2.75 miles away. Farm in blue.
Harming the countryside: It has been claimed the project will be detrimental to the countryside. As monocrop fields will be replaced with species-diverse grasslands around the base of the panels, the project will increase overall biodiversity and allow the land to recover from a chemical farming regime. 

Composite image showing view from path to south of development, from Crimscote Downs
Harming the look of the countryside: The main concern is the belief the panels will ruin the look of the countryside. Such aesthetic concerns should not simply be dismissed. But to suggest, in the case of Crimscote, that they are severe enough to trump the climate emergency is to inflate them beyond any reasonable degree. The site will be screened from view from most angles by improved hedgerows and tree-planting. Critics have mentioned views from hills to the southwest (Meon Hill, Ilmington Hill). Leaving aside the tree screens intended to address these issues, from these viewpoints this farm must be but a couple of fields out of a panorama made up of a hundred or more. In the end, the countryside will still be pleasant to walk in and nice to look at.

Traffic issues: The anti-Crimscote campaign has raised concerns about traffic, which also seem exaggerated. It is asserted that these country roads are totally unsuited to the character and volume of HGV traffic. But there is already significant HGV traffic on these country roads, as can be seen from the fact that a Department for Transport manual count point was until recently located on one of them (unfortunately the project Traffic Assessment only provides data from the nearby, but less relevant Shipston Road count point).

Between 2000 and 2009, there were on average 35 HGVs passing daily along this road. So the claim these roads are totally unsuited to HGV traffic is clearly false. Nor does the rate of increase seem outlandish. For the first three months of construction, there will be on average 30 extra HGVs passing along these roads daily; for the final three months, there will be an average extra 6 HGVs (see the project Transport Statement). There will be no significant permanent traffic increases. It seems to us that this temporary increase in traffic will not create greater inconvenience than that generated by many other developments or roadworks.

The campaigners insist they are not against solar farms, but that this one is in the wrong place. But what solar farm will not be visible from the top of some hill, somewhere? What development will not lead to some disruption and inconvenience in the course of installation? The climate emergency is the defining crisis of our time, and it is beholden on us to maintain a sense of proportion in its face, and to have the courage to make the decisions that need to be made for the sake of future generations and the natural environment.