Don’t sell Dorset power to London, say campaigners

Countryside campaigners have condemned the building of a solar farm in Dorset to provide electricity that will be bought by the City of London.

Ben Webster

Almost 100,000 solar panels are being installed on 131 acres of farmland near the village of Spetisbury.

The City of London Corporation agreed last year to fund the construction by signing what it described as a “pioneering £40 million green energy deal” to buy all the electricity produced by the farm for 15 years.It said the 50-megawatt farm would provide more than half its electricity, powering its Guildhall headquarters, three wholesale markets and the Barbican arts centre.

The North Dorset branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) objected in 2019 to the application for South Farm and has criticised the deal with the City.

Rupert Hardy, North Dorset CPRE’s chairman, who lives a mile and a half from the farm, said: “That land should be used to provide food for Dorset, not electricity for London. We would far prefer energy produced in our county to be used here — especially when it is desecrating our beautiful landscape.

“The solar farm is within sight of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. What we would like to see is more solar panels on roofs.”

Hardy said he could not see the farm from his home but “it will impact on our amenity because we do walk as far as there”.

Voltalia, the company building the solar farm, said it would not require a subsidy and was being built mainly on lower grade farmland.

Simon Holt, Voltalia’s UK manager, said the solar panels would allow the farmer, who was in his sixties, to pass South Farm on to his daughter because it would provide an income allowing her to employ a farm manager.

“That will keep the farm in the family which might not have happened as she’s a theatrical cosmetic artist,” he said.

It was “unavoidable” that renewable energy facilities would be built in the countryside, he added. “It is important they are sensitively sited outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and national parks.

“We carefully consider the potential impact of a project and we certainly believe in this case the benefits vastly outweigh the negatives. The South Farm solar plant will be built in a dip in the landscape which is difficult to see from the surrounding area. It has grid availability which is hard to come by, so we had to utilise that.

Cop26 has made it absolutely clear that we must act on climate change. Unless we take action things are going to get really bad. This is part of that action — we are trying to lower the country’s reliance on fossil fuels to produce the energy needed. This will have a big impact on the future.”

Andrew Kerby, a local Conservative councillor, said the project was a “win-win”. He said: “The countryside and landscape are far from natural and static, no matter what the city folk think.

“The reality is that farming and the way we farm has changed. Farmers once harvested light to grow grain, now they harvest light to make electricity. For me, it’s a win-win. Solar provides an opportunity to provide a carbon free, renewable energy source that will go some way to ensuring that global warming is reduced and give our environment a chance to survive.”