Solar Farm Alfreton – right idea, wrong place?

Solar Farm Alfreton
Author’s own map

Amber Valley Borough Council and North East Derbyshire District councils are considering plans submitted by Kronos Solar for the creation of a solar farm on the edge of Alfreton. 

That’s a good thing, right? Well, I’m not so sure.

Let me explain.

Old coalfield town with a public park

Alfreton is one of a north-south belt of coalfield towns stretching down the east side of the Peak District. None of them is wealthy, but a distinguishing feature of Alfreton is the lovely park, bequeathed to the people of the town by the former owners of Alfreton Hall. 

The north side of the park gives beautiful views across the Peak District. The Hall owners clearly appreciated this for they built a ha-ha along the field boundary nearby, a ditch which kept out the farm animals out whilst leaving an uninterrupted view.

The proposed Solar Farm Alfreton would sit adjacent to the north edge of the park. There would be a high deer fence around the perimeter and serried ranks of photovoltaic cells within.

The beauty of the landscape would be destroyed.

Would Solar Farm Alftreton be a local landscape ruined

Most of us can’t access Kinder Scout on a daily basis. We need to walk nearer home. The footpaths north of Alfreton Park are among the best and most scenic in this area. 

When you walk from the urban centre of Alfreton along Church Street and through the graveyard past the church, you reach a stile at the far end. Climbing over, the town immediately disappears, and you drop straight into the heart of the Peak District. 

Here you have a choice. Left takes you through three fields which – if Kronos has its way – will be full of solar panels on both sides (leaving you unable even to see the trees in Alfreton Park). Or you can go downhill from the church where the solar panels will once again swallow you up on both sides. It is a beautiful walk across a long downward sloping field, between the two woods on either side of it. 

Eventually, you thankfully reach the southern fringe of the golf course and are able to turn west and escape the clutches of the panels, walking down across the golf course and up again until you reach the road to Belper at Toadhole Furnace.

Despite the claims by Kronos for economies of scale and its ‘assiduous landscaping study’, the proposed Solar Farm Alfreton site is very prominent from a considerable distance away. This can be seen in their photograph, taken some distance north-east on the B6013, which they include in their online presentation. The solar farm fields are coloured grey to simulate the solar panels. There are a lot of them, clearly visible!


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Solar energy is good but it must be done carefully

I am in favour of renewable energy. I’m even in favour of solar panels in the right places. 

Climate change is affecting agricultural production world-wide, and Britain is not immune. But this large Alfreton solar project will reduce agricultural land in Britain for 40 years (Kronos’ equipment life-time prediction) at a time when the need for Britain to grow more food has never been more apparent. At about 300 acres, the Alfreton site is excessively large.

Kronos says that the site has been classed as sub-grade 3b and 4 agricultural land and sub-optimal for food production. But while the area is unlikely to match the output of grade 1 places like the Fens (7% of Britain’s agricultural production), the peat soils of the Fens are degrading and thinning and we cannot count on them for much food production in the long term, according to a report for Natural England. The proposed Solar Farm Alfreton site, however, includes arable land growing cereals and oilseed rape, as well as mowing grass as a crop (we can’t eat it directly, but our cows do). It should be conserved. 

Kronos also says that after 40 years their site can be returned to its original, agricultural state. It is much more likely that it will be then regarded as a brownfield site, available for non-agricultural purposes. The original farmers will, in any case, have moved on. 

In view of deepening global food insecurity due to climate change it is sensible to keep our options open. It is less sensible to cover productive land with large scale solar sites. 

There are other options. Alfreton has not, for example, exhausted its supply of building roofs for solar panels.

Perhaps that would be a better place to start?

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