18:30 Wednesday 9th January 2013
BBC Look East
PRESENTER: Coming up in the next 30 minutes, divisions tonight over solar power. Critics say it’s a criminal waste of good farmland. This Council boss says it’s a money-spinner for taxpayers. (TAPE)
MARCO CERESTE: In these really difficult times, initiatives that councils can come up with which will create income means that the taxpayer doesn’t have to put his or her hand in her pocket. .. (LIVE)
PRESENTER: Hello. The development of renewable energy in the region hit a big snag today, when council bosses clashed with farmers over plans for a large scale solar power plant in the countryside.
AMELIA REYNOLDS: The controversy blew up in Peterborough, where the Council has earmarked open land on the outskirts of the city to build three solar farms. It claims the development will provide cheap energy for years to come, but opponents have described the move as a criminal waste of rich farmland. (TAPE)
ALEX DUNLOP: Imagine a solar farm twenty five times bigger than this one. (VIDEO SOLAR INSTALLATION) It could happen, if Peterborough Council gets planning permission. A 500 acre site, along with two others, making up 900 acres of solar panels. It would be built on Council owned farmland. Some of that rich soil is farmed at Thorney by this man.
FARMER: You don’t have to go and put glass over top quality arable land. We only produce 70% of the food for this country, so we’re a net importer of food. Every acre taken out is an acre more we’ve got to import, which is an acre less to feed the starving of the world, you could say.
ALEX DUNLOP: There are two reasons to build a solar farm. To make the most of the sun’s energy, and to make money. A win-win says Peterborough. Clean carbon-free energy, which it would then sell to the National Grid. An extra £30 million over 25 years. Keen to promote clean energy, the Government have paid out over 30 pence two years ago for every kilowatt hour generated by the large solar farms. However that subsidy was slashed to 8.5 pence, though with cheaper technology, you can still get a return on the sums raised. Solar farms now receive around 9 pence of Government cash per kilowatt hour, but in April it’ll be cut to around 7 pence. So when this councillor and others received this email last week, it raised a few eyebrows. In it a Council official writes, “we are under significant pressure to ensure the application can be heard at the March planning committee. ”
CLLR HARRINGTON: We’ve been asking all the way along for more information, and for more information to back up this actual scheme has demonstrated that it is going to deliver value for money for the taxpayers of Peterborough. And so far we haven’t had that reassurance.
ALEX DUNLOP: Just north of Peterborough, this solar energy firm built this farm near Whittlesea. (VIDEO SOLAR INSTALLATION) It’s just got the go-ahead to develop a 150 acre one in Suffolk.
JONATHAN SELWYN LARK ENERGY: We import food already, and most of the countries we import food from are fairly friendly countries. We import a lot of energy, and we import some of that, a large proprtion of that, from areas that are less stable. And so there’s an important debate to be had about that issue.
ALEX DUNLOP: Those against solar farms want more panels mounted here, rather than open fields. (ROOFTOPS VIDEO) Either way, this is an industry which will be driven by subsidy, technology and rising energy costs. (LIVE)
AMELIA REYNOLDS: Earlier I spoke to the Leader of Peterborough City Council, and put it to him that the local MEP has said it was criminal to cover prime agricultural farmland with hideous solar panels. (TAPE)
MARCO CERESTE: Well he’s entitled to his opinion and I don’t agree with him. I think it’s an absolutely fantastic project that’s going to produce enough energy to power most of Peterborough. It’s going to be .. it’s going to create energy security for the people of our city. They’re going to get energy at a cheaper rate, if they sign up, in the long term. And we’re going to make a lot of money, for the people of this city.
AMELIA REYNOLDS: Well you’ll make even more money for the people of the city if you get these plans through before the Government subsidy is cut, won’t you? Are you under pressure to do that?
MARCO CERESTE: No, not really. I mean the reality of it is if you look at it we’ve extended the consultation date, so this idea that we’re trying to fix it or whatever is nonsense. We’ve extended the consultation date to twice what the statutory minimum is. We understand that the Government tariff will go down on 1st April, and all of our figures are predicated on the fact that they will go down on April 1st.
AMELIA REYNOLDS: Well that’s interesting, because I’ve got a latter here from a senior council official, who is writing to a number of interested parties about this, and he says, “as you are probably aware, we are under significant pressure to ensure the application can be heard at the March planning committee.”
MARCO CERESTE: Well that isn’t .. it’s not true. It’s just an administrative mistake. It was corrected as soon as it was .. it was .. it was discovered.
AMELIA REYNOLDS: With respect though, it’s not an administrative mistake is it? We’re not talking about a figure that’s wrong, a spelling mistake, a date that’s wrong. This is a whole paragraph here. Why would he write that you’re “under significant pressure” if you’re not?
MARCO CERESTE: Well I wouldn’t know why he wrote that. You need to ask him why he wrote that. I can assure you it’s not me put under significant pressure. I am .. you know .. I haven’t asked him personally. That would just imply that I was one of the people involved in it. It’s not happened. It’s not true. And, you know, clearly you can see, actions are much louder than words. The consultation date is far longer than it should be, and it clearly shows .. demonstrates, that we .. no-one’s been put under undue or significant pressure. But everybody has to do a job.
AMELIA REYNOLDS: There are a lot of objections to it though aren’t there, you have to admit that.
MARCO CERESTE: There are. There are a lot of objections to it, and there are thousands of people who actually want to see it happen, because they understand clearly that it’s in the benefit of our city. And in the benefit of our population. And in these really difficult times, let’s be clear about this, in these really difficult times, initiatives that councils can come up with which will create income means that the taxpayer doesn’t have to put his or her hand in their pocket. And that’s what’s really important at the moment, is to make life as easy as possible for the people of our city, and to secure their future when it comes to energy, jobs and investment.
AMELIA REYNOLDS: Marco Cereste, thank you very much.