Food production fears over Devon solar farms
A countryside group has raised concerns about Devon farmland being taken out of food production for solar farms.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said the 1,500 acres which could be affected should be used to produce food for a growing population.
Friends of the Earth said there were sufficient alternatives - such as roofs - not to warrant concern.
The National Farmer's Union (NFU) said using "low-grade" land could help supplement farmers' incomes.
Dr Jonathan Scurlock, chief policy advisor on renewable energy for the NFU, said one in three farmers across the country were diversifying into some sort of renewable energy.
"Solar is very efficient in terms of the amount of energy that can be produced.
"Most solar farms are on low-grade land and can bring a modest income to the farmer," he added.
Penny Mills from the CPRE said: "Farmland should be producing food, that's traditionally what it's done and the concern is this is so large... where is this going to stop?
"We should be supporting local producers. We need food and we have a growing population."
The 2011 Census revealed England and Wales have a population of 56.1 million people, an increase of 3.7 million since 2001.
RegenSW - an independent centre of expertise in renewable energy - said the CPRE had a "reasonable point to express" but it did not believe there was a serious cause for concern.
"Prime agricultural land should not be used, in our opinion, and we have issued best practice guidance to councils," chief executive Merlin Hyman said.
"But there shouldn't be a conflict between fuel and farming and I'd be surprised if planning permission would be granted on prime land.
"There is perhaps a debate to be had, but by and large our impression is that planning guidance is largely followed."
Friends of the Earth said it was fully committed to alternative energy and solar power had a strong role to play.
"We would be concerned if solar farms were pushing out prime agricultural land but there's no real need for it to happen," energy campaigner Dave Timms said.
"There are enough roofs on houses, factories, local authority buildings and enough brown-field sites and waste land.
Rob Denman, director of TGC Renewables, which is building several solar farms in Devon, said farming of livestock, such as sheep, could remain alongside a solar farm.
He said: "To get planning permission we only submit applications for low yield agricultural land otherwise the planner generally turns it down."
Mr Denman said depending on a variety of factors, farmers could earn an average of £800 per acre per annum.