Cleve Hill, Britain’s biggest solar panel project, was given the go-ahead to start construction by the government last week.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department gave the £450 million project the green light almost three years after the plans were first proposed.
The monster project is due to generate 350 megawatts of energy to more than 91,000 homes.
A huge expansion of renewable energy sounds like good news for everyone worried about climate catastrophe.
Yet Cleve Hill has divided the environmental and ecological movement.
Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB wildlife charity oppose the plans, while Friends of the Earth has lent its support.
Cleve Hill is set to include 880,000 panels spanning 900 acres of Kent countryside—making it one of the largest in the world.
Firms Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy claim the park will generate £1 million of revenue for Kent and Swale councils every year.
But local residents are warning that construction threatens large swathes of Kent countryside and marshland home to breeding and migrating birds.
They’re also concerned that developers are planning a lithium battery storage plant the size of 20 football pitches, used to store the energy collected by the panels.
Local interest group The Faversham Society warned, “These batteries, which are untested at this scale, are prone to runaway fires leading to massive explosions and the emission of toxic hydrogen fluoride gas that can kill or maim over a large area.”
It said HGV vehicles and construction will increase carbon emissions in the local area.
And the construction site is “well below sea level”—meaning developers will have to raise a sea wall in the coming years.
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that coal power needs to be cut to 58-79 percent of 2010 levels by 2030.
But the chaotic nature of capitalism means that the construction of solar parks or wind farms don’t happen in a rational way.
When firms tried to start fracking across Lancashire, Surrey and Sussex they tried to pose as environmentally friendly.
In reality they were just worried about their bottom line—and the Tories backed them up.
To get round local objections to fracking, Whitehall increased its powers to overturn council decisions to reject planning applications for fracking drills.
The Tories have employed the same tactic for Cleve Hill.
They have declared it a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.
This means that the government got the final say on its development.
Private energy firms can’t be relied upon to provide the kind of mass energy transition needed to tackle the urgent climate crisis.
Yet this is the strategy being employed by the Tory government.
The government announced in March that it would hold a round of “clean energy auctions” in 2021 for solar and onshore wind developments.
These auctions will mean private firms bid for Contracts for Difference.
This is a scheme where the government guarantees the amount that firms will be paid for energy.
It means companies can take on highly lucrative contracts with a reduced risk of going bust.
We urgently need more renewable energies worldwide to cut carbon emissions.
But we need them to be safe for people and to be developed in the most sustainable ways possible.
It shouldn’t be left to big business or the Tories to decide how much and what type of renewable energies are used, or where sites are developed.
Ordinary people should have a say in any transition to cleaner energy. And the fight for renewable energy can also be used as an opportunity to demand democratically run public services and well paid, unionised jobs.