Solar advice

SIR - I have recently attended two meetings in North Devon and Torridge where the benefits and economics of Solar Photovoltaic electricity generating installations have been under discussion.

The current subsidy regime through Feed In Tariffs (FITs) has produced a great rush from developers with multi-million pounds backing from financiers to cash in on this subsidy by installing up to 20-hectare blocks of ground-based PV panels on agricultural land.

Usually, they offer to rent the land from farmers for more money than they can earn from raising cattle, then they collect the subsidy for the next 25 years and pocket the profits.

At the first meeting I attended, one of these developers with plans for at least five such solar arrays in Torridge, was brushing aside any concerns over harm to scenery or wildlife and explaining how the large scale arrays were so much more efficient, that smaller units which farmers could afford to install on their existing farm building roofs were not worth bothering with.

At the second meeting, organised by a major firm of agricultural accountants, farmers were warned of the possible pifalls through taxation and inheritance implications of leasing agreements and advised how they could arrange their own finance through pension funds and other means.

This way they could install useful PV systems on their own buildings which could be connected through existing power lines and they would retain full control of their land and keep all the profits.

The FITs system of payments is likely to be modified in the very near future so that large-scale becomes markedly less attractive while small scale remains highly profitable and in many cases tax free.

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Farmers were clearly advised not to sign up to any lease agreements without first consulting their lawyers.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has, for some time, been pressing for farmers to be encouraged to install PV on the roofs of agricultural buildings and we hope as many farmers as possible will heed the advice given at the latest meeting by consultants who have kept farmers’ interests to the fore for many years.

C P Hassall

CPRE Torridge

District Group.

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