The Green Fields of England
Cornwall's farmers have more than the harvest festival to celebrate this autumn: the granting of planning permission for the UK's first purpose-built solar farm and a £14m loan for an even larger solar farm next to Newquay airport. The landmark decisions by Cornwall council, which gave the loan, are predicted to trigger a surge of similar applications from farmers and landowners across the county over the next 18 months, with the council estimating a potential total investment of £1bn for the county.
The bonanza was sparked by the introduction last April of the feed-in tariff, which pays anyone producing their own "green" electricity up to 41.3p/kWh – as long as the infrastructure is up and running by April 2012. Since giving the go ahead to the £4m solar farm at the former Wheal Jane tin mine near Truro last month, the council has become so convinced that it will be inundated with similar applications that it has allocated six planning officers to deal with the paperwork. Locals, who enjoy the highest levels of solar irradiation in the country, are calling it Cornwall's "solar rush".
But with farmers now being approached by solar developers offering tantalising deals to lease their land, there is some trepidation that solar farms are too good to be true. Are they just another get-rich-quick scheme the likes of which have so often been dangled before cash-strapped farmers? As so often in farming, profitability hinges on the availability of a subsidy – in this case, the feed-in tariff which, at least for the time being, remains, having escaped the wrath of yesterday's comprehensive spending review.
I've got a quote coming for turning the outer bailey of The Castle into a sea of silicon, better than wheat. Farmers respond very well to what their customer tells them he wants. And if you lot want to splash your cash on silly cells who are we to gainsay you?