'Clean power' surges by almost 50% as green debate rumbles on
The renewable electricity-generating capacity of the South West has hit a landmark target of 1Gigawatt (GW) (1,000MW), a report published today has revealed.
A surge in the installation of projects has seen the region's "clean" power grow by almost 50% over the past year.
Devon and Cornwall now contain more than 20,000 solar PV (photo-voltaic) projects and almost 300 wind turbine schemes, according to the annual report of industry body Regen South West.
Wind farms rose by 31% in the two counties – 120 new projects – but added just 3MW or 3% to the total capacity, the study showed.
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But solar parks grew by one fifth (20%) – 4,483 new schemes – more than doubling (120%) its contribution to the overall level by 178MW.
There is growing concern that over-generous subsidies are driving the rising numbers, damaging landscape and taking agricultural land out of production.
But proponents of green energy say there are still far too few schemes as output is set to miss the key target of producing 15% of the UK energy from renewable sources by at the current rate of deployment.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen South West, which has produced the South West Renewable Energy Progress Report since 2004, said the growth was "encouraging" but should be "just the start."
"If we continue at our current pace we will finish a long way off our 2020 target," he added.
"This means we'll be missing out the chance to create 34,000 high-value new jobs in the sector, the opportunity to become less reliant on uncertain oversees supplies of fossil fuels, and the opportunity of using our local renewable energy resources to generate income and fuel security for local communities.
"While solar PV and onshore wind are currently our best performers, the deployment of offshore wind in the Bristol Channel and off the Dorset coast has the potential to make the largest contribution to the amount of renewable energy we generate, and wave and tidal energy have an exciting future."
Renewable electricity in the six-county South West has grown from 714 MW in 2012 to more than 1 GW now, equal to 7.3% of its total use.
The report includes a breakdown by renewable energy technologies and how to meet government targets.
The growth was driven mainly by 251MW of solar PV - with 200MW of that from large-scale solar farms.
This is followed by 39MW from biomass, 20MW from heat pumps, 13 MW from anaerobic digestion, 6MW from waste and 5.5MW from onshore wind.
Devon and Cornwall account for 595MW of the total.
Critics say applying national targets to regions is wrong when there was confidence that the overall figure of 20% could be achieved.
Dr Philip Bratby, a spokesman for the Campaign to protect Rural England (CPRE), in Devon, said the industry produced only "highly subsidised" jobs.
"There is no need to destroy the tourist industry by carpeting the countryside with wind turbines and solar panels," he added.
"It used to be the economic mantra that productivity should be increasing to create wealth – thus we should produce more energy with fewer jobs.
"Creating thousands of jobs in the renewable energy industry to produce very little electricity reveals an economy of reducing productivity and therefore the destruction of real wealth."
Totnes Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who has recently become extremely critical of the proliferation of solar panel projects, said much of the 15% produced by renewables would come from plants burning wood chip. She said she was horrified by the latest plans in her constituency for a second solar array stretching across 75 acres of farm land at Diptford, near South Brent.
Describing a visit to a similar site nearby, Dr Wollaston added: "I felt physically sick when I came over the brow of the hill – when you get up close the level of industrialisation is quite staggering.
"There is fantasy among parts of the green movement that these things are beautiful with animals grazing in between.
"They are being paid for by huge subsidies – we need to have a pause and ask what is the environmental impact before it is too late."
Julian German, Cornwall Council's cabinet member for the agency Green Cornwall, said the Duchy was on target to increase renewable energy from 2% (90MW) in 2009 to 15% (390MW) by 2020.
He added: "Energy production from renewable sources in Cornwall has nearly tripled over the last three years.
"However, we would like to focus on developing the concept of a local energy market that builds in community benefit through local ownership, generation and supply and intend to facilitate this over the coming years."