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Alliance offers solutions on oil boiler ban and solar farms

The growth of solar farming on once-productive agricultural land and the ban on replacement oil boilers proposed from 2026 have both prompted enormous consternation in rural communities. Now the Countryside Alliance has identified a package of measures among many set to be debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday 5th September that we believe, collectively, would go a long way towards solving these concerns. 

With the summer recess drawing to a close, this Report Stage debate on the Energy Bill will be one of the Commons’ first major items of business and represents backbench MPs’ opportunity to bring their proposals forward for debate. As of now, 233 amendments have been tabled and we have recognised six, from a broad range of political perspectives, that we think merit Members’ attention. Full details are available in the attached briefing.

Under the heat and buildings strategy, the Government has already committed to ending installations of oil boilers in new-build homes from 2025. A separate consultation proposed to ban like-for-like replacements of existing oil boilers from 2026 and focus on heat pumps as the default heading method for off-grid homes, predominantly in rural areas. That consultation closed in January 2022, but the Government has yet to publish the outcome or say how it intends to proceed.

As the Government recognises, not all homes are suitable for heat pumps; they may be unaffordable for many households and fail to meet the requirements of all properties. Two amendments (NC 40 and Amendment 8) tabled by George Eustice MP (Conservative) suggest subsidising hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), which can be used as a replacement fuel in oil boilers that have undergone minor modifications, and treating such systems as low-carbon for the purposes of schemes the Bill would create. 

Meanwhile, the importance of solar energy to meeting the UK’s energy security needs and fulfilling its commitment to net zero is undeniable. Solar development must continue but should be situated in the right places. We are concerned about the trend of building solar farms on productive agricultural land, primarily because leaving less land available for agricultural production threatens UK food security. 

An amendment (NC 48) tabled by Alicia Kearns MP (Conservative) would prohibit solar energy developments of 500 acres or more where over 20% of the land is well suited to agriculture. This would curtail the development of large-scale solar farms on productive agricultural land without preventing it entirely, which would be counter-productive since it would, for instance, stop farmers diversifying by siting small-scale generators on surplus land. 

On the side of incentivising responsible solar development, meanwhile, Caroline Lucas MP (Green) has tabled an amendment (NC 31) requiring new homes, subject to exception, to carry solar panels on their roofs and developments to be planned supportively. We back the dual use of land already being developed so it can contribute to our energy needs, and a default expectation that new homes will incorporate solar panels is a sensible next step. Other amendments (NC 11 and NC 21) tabled by Wera Hobhouse MP (Liberal Democrat) would improve rewards available to small-scale generators under the Smart Export Guarantee, and exempt batteries used to store solar energy from VAT. 

The Countryside Alliance fully supports net zero carbon emissions for the UK. Achieving this aim will, however, require public support, including from the rural population. We are seeking to support policies that can help ensure rural Britain is not required to bear a disproportionate burden, and that other important objectives are not sacrificed either. We believe these amendments offer a helpful contribution. We urge MPs and the Government strongly to consider taking them forward.


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