SOLAR farms which could power an extra 18,000 homes, covering 405 acres of Oxfordshire countryside, have been branded “madness”.
Plans for four new solar farms have all emerged over the past month which would cover an area the size of 225 football pitches.
The power would be fed into the National Grid and be distributed to homes across the UK.
But while some residents have praised Oxfordshire’s potential green contribution, others have labelled the projects – which involve sites near Steventon, Chilton, Culham and at Barnard Gate, between Eynsham and Witney – a waste of good farmland.
Oxfordshire Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) member Michael Tyce said: “There shouldn’t be any in Oxfordshire, because of the damage they do, with such little result.
“It's not sunny enough in England – they produce tiny amounts of electricity and cover acres and acres of countryside.
“And it is madness to take land out of useful food production and cover it in solar panels.”
He put the boom in solar panel projects down to financial incentives offered by the Government in 2010.
But East Hendred Parish Council chairman John Sharp said the county should play its part in producing renewable energy. The village lies close to the Chilton and Steventon sites.
He said: “It is unusual to have two so close together, but in general I support the plans.
“In principle we welcome renewable energy in the village. Although we have yet to assess the visual impact, it is likely to be considerably less than a wind farm.”
Mr Sharp is a shareholder in the existing Westmill Solar farm, near Watchfield, which was built in 2011 across 30 acres and powers 1,400 homes. It was the first community-owned solar farm in the UK.
In January plans for a 50,688-panel solar farm on 74 acres of farmland on the edge of Oxford at Barton were dropped after community opposition.
But work on another huge solar farm is due to start this year. The 80,262-panel project on a 93-acre field between Ambrosden and Merton was approved by Cherwell District Council in February.
Council member James Macnamara said: “Whilst in favour of renewable energy, I do not think it is suitable for rural land – there are lots of sites elsewhere, like warehouse roofs – that are the right place for them.”
- Of the four solar farms planned, only the backers of the project at Steventon have put in a formal planning application. It is for land at Hill Farm, across fields covering 79 acres – the size of 26 football pitches – and powering 3,500 homes. The Vale of White Horse District Council is due to either approve or reject the proposal by October 11.
- The project at Chilton is the largest of the four schemes and would cover 225 acres – 125 football pitches – powering up to 7,500 homes.
- The Culham solar park would be built next to Culham Science Park, off Abingdon Road, covering 37 acres – an area the size of 20.5 football pitches – and powering up to 3,000 homes.
- Plans for solar panels at Salutation Farm, Barnard Gate, just north of the A40 between Eynsham and Witney, would cover 64 acres – 35.5 football pitches – to power 4,000 homes.
The schemes at Culham, Chilton and Barnard Gate have not yet been submitted as formal planning applications. Details of the Baranrd Gate scheme went on display to the public yesterday. Solarcentury, the company behind the plans for the park at Salutation Farm, held a consultation event at Eynsham Village Hall.