A quiet revolution is underway in the British countryside as more and more farmers are investing in renewable energy. According to the National Farmers Union, one in five of its members had produced clean electricity from solar or wind by the end of 2012.(1) Between 2011 and 2012 there was a 28% increase in the number of biogas plants, capable of providing both renewable electricity and heat from farm waste.
But the current on-farm renewables capacity in Britain is tiny compared with Germany. By the end of 2010, German farmers owned over 10% of the country’s renewable energy capacity, equivalent to over 5,700 MW. Compared with the UK’s 78 biogas anaerobic digesters, there were 6,000 digesters in Germany by 2010, with plans to double capacity by 2020. But the German example just shows the potential that could be realised here. The income from feed-in tariffs can provide a lifeline for farmers struggling with poor harvests in bad weather.
The late Gordon Proven of Proven Energy, now part of Kingspan Wind pointed out that if one of his small wind turbines, either a 3kW or 6kW model, were installed on every farm in Britain, they would be able provide about 50% of Britain’s electricity.(2) Gaia Wind, the UK’s eighth fastest growing company based in Glasgow, is keen to take advantage of a 10-fold Capital Allowance Increase for renewable energy technology purchases that will allow farms and rural businesses to gain an increase in the annual investment allowance, giving 100% tax relief on investments from £25,000 to £250,000 for the next two years. The company is rolling out a new turbine model targeted at rural homes, businesses, crofts and farms, which cannot access three phase power. Thousands of potential wind turbine owners have, up until now, been hampered by only having access to single phase electricity.(3)
Small scale wind turbines can generate a significant income for farmers and rural landowners by producing electricity for specific applications or the entire farm. At the same time the farm land is not affected by the turbine and can still be used for crops and grazing livestock. Land owners are ideally placed to maximise the benefits of small scale wind power with an enviable availability of open aspect land that complements the installation of multiple small scale wind turbines.(4)
The “Post 2013: A sustainable future for Cumbria” project advises farmers that although large-scale wind farms face opposition in terms of visual effects on the landscape, small-scale turbines on farms or estates can be installed without impact on current land-use.
As well as wind, solar photovoltaic panels could be installed on roofs or disused land, wherever there is space.
Farmers in Cumbria who have yet to investigate the feasibility of renewable energy on their farm could contact the NFU Farm Energy Service. The Service has just celebrated its first year during which time it advised more than 1,550 farmers. It is interesting to note that more calls have come in from farmers asking how they can make their business more efficient – around 900 – not just businesses looking to invest in renewable energy. Cumbria County Council, in conjunction with the Lake District National Park Authority, should encourage farmers to investigate the feasibility of installing small-scale wind turbines, or other forms of renewable energy.