It is still unclear whether land used for solar farms will be eligible for the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) when it comes into effect next year.
It had been proposed that the presence of grazing sheep or free-range poultry around panels could be accepted as proof that the land is “available for agriculture” and therefore eligible to receive BPS. However, Defra has still not confirmed whether this will be the case, according to NFU chief renewable energy adviser Jonathan Scurlock.
Speaking to Farmers Weekly at the launch of a guide explaining how best to manage land within solar farms for agricultural uses, he said confusion around the eligibility of solar farms for BPS remained and called for urgent government clarification.
“Farmers must have the land ‘at their disposal’ in order to claim BPS, and solar farm agreements should be carefully drafted in order to demonstrate this. BPS cannot be claimed if the land is actually rented out,” the guide says.
Ineligible land taken up by mountings and hard-standing should be deducted from BPS claims, and in the year of construction larger areas may be temporarily ineligible if they are not available for agriculture.
Although Defra has also not yet provided full details on BPS greening measures, it is thought it may be possible to locate some types of ecological focus areas within solar farms, probably around the margins (for example, grazed buffer strips and ungrazed fallow, both sown with wildflowers).
The BRE National Solar Centre agricultural best practice guidance accompanies the NSC’s biodiversity guide to help farmers and developers design the optimal scheme that maximises solar generation while protecting or enhancing biodiversity and maintaining agricultural uses.
A copy of the guide – Agricultural Good Practice for Solar Farms – is available for download from www.bre.co.uk/nsc/ – click on guidance and publications to access it.