OPPOSITION is mounting against plans to build one of the largest solar panel farms in the UK on land just outside Exeter.
Renewable energy company Lightsource has applied for planning permission for a solar array on three adjacent fields totalling 21.7 hectares at Bowhay Farm, in Shillingford Abbot.
It would consist of 43,680 photovoltaic panels – one of the largest in the UK – and will sit alongside the road from Ide to Dunchideock.
The land is currently used for grazing stock and is regarded as a local beauty spot.
A decision on the application will be made by Teignbridge District Council and the developers said it provide the energy to power 3,200 typical family homes a year and argued such diversification of farms was key to avoid land being sold off.
A packed crowd turned out for a meeting of Shillingford St George Parish Council this week to discuss the issue, with one of the protesters estimating at least 100 people were present with the vast majority there to object.
Campaigners said they feel the proposal is "disproportionately large, insensitively positioned, and will rob the country of valuable arable production just as worldwide food shortages start to push up food prices".
Their spokesman described it as "the wrong scale, in the wrong place and on the wrong type of land".
"It is in a location which is clearly visible from many important vantage points, beauty spots, national trunk roads and busy local roads, meaning that it will be seen by many tens of thousands of people each year," they added.
"It is of an industrial nature which is out of keeping with the characteristic features of the surrounding countryside; it will be built on some of the best food-producing land in Devon, thus reducing the supply of crops at a time of increasing worldwide food shortages."
The group argue that construction of the site will involve around 200 HGV lorry trips along stretches of the busy Ide/Dunchideock road, and along narrow country roads.
"During the four months of construction, around 40 workers will need to access the site. However, the finished array will operate unattended, so the development will not create any local permanent jobs," the spokesman added.
"Our aim is to keep local people and organisations informed about the proposal so their views, concerns and local knowledge can be fully taken into account. We are not against solar energy (quite the opposite), but this proposal is just too big and in the wrong place."
A spokesman for the developer said in its application to the council it was proposing to install solar modules covering approximately 7.6ha of land with gaps in-between the rows to avoid them shading each other.
"The design has been prepared to maximise energy production within the available area of land, taking into account the site specific constraints," they said.
"The purpose of the development is to convert daylight into electricity. This solar development will have a generation capacity of approximately 10.7 megawatts, which is enough to power more than 3,200 typical family homes.
"About half of all UK farms undertake some form of activity that is outside of the core business of farming.
"Diversification can result in a more productive use of part of the farm estate; can provide a constant form of income to the farm as a balance to the traditional fluctuations in farm incomes, this can then be reinvested in farming activities.
"Diversification into renewable energy will increase farm income security. Moreover, it can serve to protect the farming tradition by obviating the incentive, seen increasingly often on farms, to sell parcels of land to maintain income for the benefit of the remainder of the holding.
"The solar installation will have a life of approximately 25 years, after which time the development will be decommissioned and the land returned to its original condition."