County Hall Trowbridge Wiltshire

I speak at County Hall in Favour of Solar Farms

This afternoon I spoke at County Hall, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, on the absolute need for Solar farms on low grade agricultural land in addition to rooftops to meet energy security and climate goals in Wiltshire. As the lead administrator for Zero Chippenham on the Community Rooftop solar scheme i’m doing everything I can to facilitate the uptake of rooftop solar, but it isn’t enough to meet our goals.

The debate was on a motion proposed by Cllr Alford and Botterill to write to the secretary of state Michael Gove highlighting the apparent ‘cumulative’ impact of solar farms. It’s a pity they aren’t so concerned about the cumulative impact of large scale housing developments on farmland in Chippenham! Cllr Alford was quite happy to put three Pewsham farms ready for development in Chippenham in December without a mention of cumulative impact or food production.

It was a poor debate with a lack of evidenced objectivity from most Wiltshire councillors. Essentially they all ‘supported solar’, just not in Wiltshire. I was disappointed with both Conservatives and Lib Dems alike. Only Cllr Dr Nick Murry spoke with any knowledge, expertise, and objectivity.

My statement was limited to three minutes so I was time limited in my arguments.

I was later interviewed for BBC Wiltshire.

Here’s the transcript of my statement below…

Introduction

Good Morning Councillors 

My name is Matthew Short, I am a Chippenham Town Councillor, and a volunteer administrator for the Zero Chippenham Community Rooftop solar scheme. 

I’m going to make a short statement with reference to Motion 2024-03 Solar Farms. 

Climate Change and Carbon Budget 

The Global carbon budget from the beginning of 2024 to have 50% chance of staying within 1.5 degrees C is 275gt CO2e  

If we assume the global population to be 8 billion people, then we each have a carbon budget of approximately 32 tonnes of CO2e left to burn, ever. 

If the average UK citizen uses around 10 tonnes of CO2e per year that gives us 3 years left to get to net zero on a fair usage basis.  

So you can see the picture is pretty grim. Particularly since global temperatures have been above 1.5 degrees C global average for the last year. 

So the case for a rapid reduction in emissions is clear and the reality is we don’t have until 2050 to get there.  

But Wiltshire has its quota of solar farms? 

As a whole renewables in Wiltshire only meet 6% of our total energy demand. 

Much of our renewable energy is imported from offshore wind. On days when it’s not windy we’re in one of the most carbon intensive regions. 

The Government’s British Energy Security Strategy  calls for an ambitious increase in installed solar to 70GW by 2035, we are currently at just over 15GW. 

So this ‘we’ve reached our quota argument’ simply doesn’t match the evidence. 

 

But we should put them on rooftops? 

I agree with this. However in my role as a solar admin, I can say with absolute certainty it won’t happen fast enough to meet the scale of the problem. 

The Government’s recent energy research paper concludes that in order to reach the 70GW target by 2035 that two thirds of the installations will need to be ground mounted. There simply isn’t enough rooftop space. 

Shouldn’t fields be kept for farming? 

Well yes we should be farming on Best and Most Versatile agricultural land. Though with climate change this is becoming more of a challenge.  

Solar Panels will improve Soil? 

The Class 3b soil (i.e. the sub-surface living eco-system) will be massively improved, will draw down and long-term sequester significant carbon and will be significantly better-yielding after spending years under Photo-Voltaic (PV) panels. 

A well designed solar farm can become a home for wildlife during its lifetime with benefits for wildlife and biodiversity. 

 

Conclusions 

We absolutely have to rapidly build out renewables in Wiltshire to reach our climate and energy security goals  

I ask the Council to acknowledge the importance of large scale solar farms built on brownfield and low grade agricultural land, and battery storage near major grid connections such as Melksham, for critical energy security, and a crucial step in the road to 70GW of installed solar by 2035.