Vale of the Solar Panels

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At the end of July, Dorset Council approved the development of a 190-acre solar farm in the Blackmore Vale. Rachael Rowe reports

This is a 35-acre solar farm in Wales – the one approved near Hazelbury Bryan covers 190 acres

There’s no doubt that global warming is already here. From crippling heatwaves and wildfires in Europe to the alarming disappearance of insects, the signs of a crisis are clear.
At the same time, there is no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, affecting supplies and security of both food and fuel.
Councils and other statutory organisations are compelled to think and act differently in order to meet the challenges brought by climate change.
On 26th July, Dorset Council approved the development of a 190 acre solar farm in the Blackmore Vale, close to the conservation areas of Mappowder, Pulham and Hazelbury Bryan. The panels will produce 50 megawatts of renewable energy, powering 11,725 homes annually.
With the broad views from Bulbarrow Hill and Rawlsbury Camp likely to include many fields of panels, will Thomas Hardy’s Vale of the Little Dairies be changed forever?

The projected outline of the North Dairy Solar Farm at Hazelbury Bryan

How much do we need?
A significant part of the UK’s strategy to reach net zero by 2050 is dependent on renewable energy. According to the National Grid, all electricity should come from renewable sources by 2035.
Four main sources of renewable energy are used in the UK – wind, solar, hydroelectric and bioenergy. During 2020, 43 per cent of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources. In May 2023, the UK’s trillionth killowat hour of renewable electricity was produced. It has taken 50 years for this amount of electricity to come from renewable sources – the next trillion is expected to be produced within five years. It’s an insight into the pace of change on renewables.
Energy from the North Dairy Solar Farm (NDF) development will be used locally and also feed the National Grid. Much of the power at the Spetisbury solar farm currently powers buildings in the City of London including the Guildhall and Tower Bridge.

This 20-acre solar farm is visible from Hambledon Hill

The North Dairy solar farm
Dorset Council received more than 200 letters of objection to the development of the NDF at Hazelbury Bryan. The site lies at the confluence of the River Lyddon and Wonston Brook, an area known for its tendency to flood. Not surprisingly, the concerns are mainly about flooding.
Anthony Cake’s family has farmed in the area for three generations; the farm is 400 years old and close to the solar farm. Anthony said: ‘My wife and I support renewable energy programmes. We know that we all have to change the way we live. However, at no time has anyone from the developers contacted us. It’s as though we don’t exist. We were left off the map as well, and that wasn’t down to scaling.
‘We won’t see the solar farm. My concern is the risk of flooding. Between us, my family and I have 168 years of experience of flooding in this area. Where you have glass on clay, with time, channelling could occur, creating a rapid run-off. If British Solar Renewables (BSR) or Dorset Council could look me in the eye and assure me 100 per cent that my home and livelihood won’t flood … Perhaps they could underwrite the cost of my flooding insurance?’
Local people are all familiar with the flood risks. Crawford May, chairman of Lydlinch and Kings Stag Parish Council, told the planning meeting: ‘I have lived and worked in the Kings Stag area for 67 years. I know which places flood. I know how deep it gets, and how fast it can flow.’
The planning application does contain mitigation plans for landscaping, flood management and road access.
However there are still concerns about the impact of such a large development in rural Dorset, especially around the use of arable land.
Save Hardy’s Vale has been campaigning against the solar panel farm. Ian Bryan says: ‘It appears that the temptation of a newly re-enforced grid connection has blinded the applicants and the councillors to the very serious practical reasons why the NDF Site is so unsuitable for a solar development. Those who live downstream of the proposed development know clearly what serious flooding is like, and just how frightening – and life threatening – it can be.
‘Of course, we need to utilise solar, but as the government and Dorset Council policies say, put solar panels on brownfield sites, car parks and roofs etc. Dorset Council set out a host of good reasons in their Climate and Ecology Emergency Agenda to look after our valued, designated and food-productive landscape.’

We are where we are
When developments of this nature are proposed, significant work goes on behind the scenes to investigate the plans. North Dorset MP Simon Hoare says: ‘If we are serious about combating climate change to get to net zero, we need solar, hydro and wind. There is increasing demand for electricity and we need to get the power from somewhere. It’s a good idea – but not here.
‘My main concern is the site is too big. I have concerns the number of panels will take away soakaway land when it rains excessively. It is maximising energy security to the detriment of food security. We have seen with COVID the fragility of international supply chains.
‘However, I know the council took their time on this and have not rushed to a judgement. We are where we are and the applicants must still meet the requirements of the council report.
‘While I am disappointed, I am keen we maximise renewable energy and each one of us needs to play a part.’
Driving around the Blackmore Vale, there are a lot of new housing developments – with no solar panels in sight. Is this a missed opportunity for Dorset’s housing planners to mandate developers to use sustainable energy more effectively?
With global warming causing significant changes to the planet, the North Dairy Solar Farm is not the only challenging decision that Dorset planners will face in the near future.

  • British Solar Renewables and Dorset Council were approached for comment and had not responded at the time of going to press.
The frequently flooded road to Hazelbury Bryan, where residents are concerned that a huge solar farm can only increase flood risk

How much energy is renewable in the UK?

Electricity generated from fossil fuels contributes to greenhouse gas emission. Energy from renewable sources generates no, or very low, carbon emissions, and moving to renewable energy is a critical component in tackling climate change.
In the UK, the largest single source of electricity entering the National Grid is natural gas. But in 2020, for the first time, the majority of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources – 43%. Collectively that’s more than natural gas (34.5%) and far more than coal (1.8%). Nuclear power constitutes 16% of all energy sources in the UK.
Renewable energy in the
UK is generated from four main sources:
Wind power
28.6% of the UK’s electricity generation
Biomass
5.6% of the national renewables
Solar power
4.4% of the national renewables
Hydropower
Making just 1.8% of the renewables.
Just 13 years ago, zero carbon power made up less than 20% of the UK’s electricity supply.
In 2023, more than 50% of the UK’s electricity is from renewable sources.

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