32,000 power panels planned for area of natural beauty
Thousands of solar panels could cover a vast area of land at a Westcountry beauty spot.
Plans have been submitted for a solar farm to cover almost 50 acres of agricultural land within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) near Sidbury in East Devon.
The 33,200 photovoltaic panels raised 2.2m off the ground at three metre intervals would be installed on East Hill Strips beside the Jurassic coast.
The 19.7 hectare (49 acre) solar park would generate up to seven megawatts of electricity, sufficient to provide the annual power needs of around 1,680 households.
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Rural campaigners have expressed fervent opposition to the proposals describing them as "absolutely ridiculous".
Tim Hale, chairman of the East Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said the region "cannot afford" the loss of land for food production.
"The developer is only doing it for the money, because they know they can make £1.2 million per year in subsidies from the Government," he said.
"It's absolutely ridiculous. Solar photovoltaic panels do not work at night, they generate more cardon dioxide and manage to distort the grid."
Residents also expressed their dismay at the plans for the "massive" area of farmland. Alan Darrant, chairman of the Sid Vale Association, said: "The sheer size of the site is concerning regardless of any benefits it will provide.
"Solar farms are an ugly blot on the landscape. Even the proprietors of the energy firms wouldn't describe them as pretty.
Mr Darrant suggested land owners were getting won over by offers of big money sums from energy companies in return for use of their land.
"It's a matter of economics. Landowners and farmers are being tempted by high prices for land that they could otherwise use to graze sheep."
AONBs have the same level of protection as National parks in England and Wales restricting new developments to protect the natural beauty of the land.
Mr Durrant added: "Development in an AONB is only normally allowed in exceptional circumstances. You have to ask is this really an exceptional case? I find it difficult to justify."
Using renewable energy at the site is said to save some 4,130 tonnes of carbon dioxide that would be generated through the burning of fossil fuels.
Installation of the panels is estimated to take around two or three months and the park would have a lifespan of 25 years.
Developers say the site is naturally screened and would not adversely impact on the surrounding countryside.
But environmentalists and politicians including Totnes MP Dr Sarah Wollaston have hit out over the green energy push as the "industralisation" of the countryside.
The application by Lumicity Ltd will be considered by planners at East Devon District Council.