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West homes take a shine to solar power

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: June 12, 2013

Solar
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The South West has topped the national league table for the households installing solar panels.

Latest figures from the gas and electricity regulator Ofgem reveal that the region saw more than 15,000 confirmed installations and around 57 MW installed electricity generating capacity last year.

The six-county region, running as far as Bristol, was followed by the South East with 13,000 then by the East Midlands in third with just over 12,000.

The region also tops the leader board for domestic solar photo-voltaic (PV) installations since the Government’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) incentive was introduced in 2011. There are nearly 65,000 PV systems on homes compared to the South East, with 55,000, then the east of England with about 40,000.

Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen SW, said: “Householders have embraced the potential of solar energy to turn their energy bills into an income – as well as move to clean, green power.

“As prices have come down many more could benefit from solar and other renewables.”

Solar power with its low-level, ground-mounted arrays, is less offensive to landscape campaigners in the West Country, compared to large wind turbines, which often spark vociferous campaigns.

However, there has been anger over some of the large-scale schemes, which many fear are using highly productive farmland, and in some areas with a number of schemes, there is concern that tourism will be harmed.

Bob Barfoot, north Devon chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said the figures were no surprise for an area with the “best solar resource in the UK”.

He said small-scale roof-mounted solar was “acceptable” but the problem lay with large-scale solar farms which were increasingly taking up agricultural land which could be used for food production.

He added: “Even low-quality land can be used to grow grass which is then used as fodder for animals. In the South West grass is one of our biggest crops as much of our land cannot sustain arable crops.”

Jeremy Varcoe, vice-chairman of the Camel Valley and Bodmin Moor Protection Society, said “it makes sense” to harness solar energy with its “generous – some might say over-generous” subsidies.

He argues the larger “parks” should be sited on brownfield sites, but said local planning authorities all too often approved big installations on “good farming country” contrary to the guidance in the National Policy Planning framework.

“Parts of Cornwall already have clusters around grid sub-stations of these large parks so that the growing cumulative impact is bound to restrict further development,” he added.

“So, too, is the limited capacity of the National Grid to accept many more such connections.”

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