Derril Water Solar Farm, Pyworthy – April 2023

It has been announced that the developer, RES, has sold the development to Ripple Energy who will sell shares in the scheme and that this will become the UK’s first shared solar park.

Our thoughts on this are below:

Devon CPRE has long campaigned for ‘Grass not Glass’ and supported the community of Pyworthy in fighting the Derril Water Solar Park, ultimately taking the legal challenge to the High Court.
In our view, this announcement makes no difference to the reasons we backed residents in fighting Pyworthy’s Derril Water solar farm. The offer of shared ownership doesn’t alter the loss of precious farmland that could be used to produce food – at a time when there’s a greater than ever need to increase the UK’s food security, nor does it alter the loss of local democracy in a community which was overwhelmingly against this development.

Ripple Energy is promoting its shared ownership scheme as a ‘benefit’ to the community by ‘ring-fencing 10% of the shares in Derril Water for local households and businesses to buy’. To our mind, genuine community initiatives are shaped by local communities, not imposed on them. Ripple and RES say they will work closely with the local community on this project but this is the first our charity and, we believe, the people in Pyworthy have heard of this scheme – when the two companies involved decide to jointly announce it to the general public. So much for community involvement!

Barely a week goes by without one local authority or another in Devon considering a solar farm proposal. Next week a site visit is due to take place on land in East Devon where Aura Power plans to cover 145 acres of farmland at Whimple with solar panels. Devon CPRE has objected to the scheme, which is recommended for approval despite many concerns from the local community. Among numerous objections submitted to East Devon District Council, Devon CPRE states that 94.6% of the proposed site is graded 3a or 3b land, thereby including Best and Most Versatile (BMV) land, which should be protected for food production.

Devon CPRE recently released a map showing the alarming spread of industrial-sized solar developments across the county. The map shows the number, scale and spread of 65 permitted and pending solar farms of 20+ acres in Devon, and the only major application to be refused last December (at Marsh Green in East Devon). The nine largest solar farms covering 100+ acres are all within the local authority areas of Torridge, North Devon, Mid Devon and East Devon.

The publication of Devon CPRE’s solar farm map comes as the national charity CPRE launches its own campaign for solar to be located on rooftops. Thousands of new houses are going up across Devon on greenfield sites, but most of these new homes aren’t being built with a single solar panel on the roof or include any other renewable energy features.

Solar power has a part to play, but in a wet climate like Devon’s, covering thousands of acres of productive pasture with glass is not the ‘green’ solution it’s claimed to be – especially when there are plenty of redundant brownfield sites and rooftops where the panels could be put, for example, supermarkets, car parks and council offices.

At a time of rapidly rising food prices, we believe that Devon’s farmland should not be covered in solar panels to produce small quantities of expensive electricity at times of the day when it is least needed, but should instead be used to produce high-quality food for local consumers.