MP for South West Norfolk and government environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss, has said that prime farmland should not be used for solar panels.
The question was posed to Ms Truss in light of the ongoing controversy over the 170-acre proposed solar farm scheme at Bridgham, which she opposed, and was rejected by a planning committee of Breckland Council this year.
She said: “I have been very clear that I think productive agricultural land should be used for food production.
“That’s why one of the first decisions I made as Defra secretary was not to give agricultural subsidies to solar farms.
“Certainly there’s plenty of commercial roof space - there’s 250,000 hectares of commercial roof space across the country where we could put solar panels.”
Ms Truss added: “I’m in favour of renewable energy provided it is in the right place. We have a really important food and farming industry in this county and I don’t want to see solar panels on really productive agricultural land.”
But the Solar Trade Association said: “It is wrong to suggest that solar farms and food production are somehow in conflict. The solar industry, farmers and the government’s own planning guidance all agree that agriculture and solar can and should go hand-in-hand.
“In the Solar Trade Association’s 10 Commitments on the development of solar farms, we specifically say that solar farms should be on non-agricultural or low-quality land, which is usually used for grazing.
“Many farmers graze sheep on their solar farms. Sheep are in fact an easy way of keeping the grass down, and we are starting to see that the sheep and lambs actually prefer to shelter under the rows of panels than in hedgerows.
“It is unfortunate that Environment Secretary Liz Truss still does not recognise this, especially after we wrote to her to set out the latest best practice and since Freedom of Information requests showed that Defra officials themselves warned that there was no evidence for solar farms causing a loss of agricultural output.”