A new incentive to source green energy

FARMERS and growers are looking at a new scheme to encourage renewable energy technologies.

The Renewable Heat Incentive adds new grant support possibilities to those previously existing for biogas production, ground heat extraction, wood furnaces, wind turbines and sunshine collectors.

Work on the RHI was started by the last government and picked up cautiously by the reigning coalition. The outline plan for it pledges £860m in start-up funds.

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Rudie Humphrey, regional woodfuels manager for the Forestry Commission, said: “It is not as generous as was originally envisaged. But we are in different financial times – and the ethos is still there. Renewable energy systems are more expensive but the RHI should mean they do not cost you more in the long run.”

The RHI will subsidise the production of heat – and heat used for cooling – which comes from alternatives to fossil fuels.

The Feed-in Tariff (FIT), published a year ago, already guarantees a premium for electricity sold into the national grid from renewable sources. It was seen as giving too much value to sunlight converters on suburban roofs and not enough to farm-scale biomass burning and anaerobic digesters, producing gas from farm and food waste, and it is now under review. Meanwhile, the RHI changes the sums again, in situations where heat can be produced for local consumption even if it would not be viable to turn it into electricity for the national grid, or where heat is produced as a side-benefit of power generation. It might also revive interest in using solar power to produce hot water, which is relatively simple, as opposed to turning light into electricity.

All sorts of authorities, institutions and businesses, will be interested, but farms are prime targets.

Mr Humphrey summed up: “A farm has tractors and chainsaws and land which could supply fuel. A biomass operation can fit in with what is happening there anyway.”

The NFU’s chief renewable energy adviser, Jonathan Scurlock, said the RHI document included a lot of wriggle room for the government because it was frightened of being accused of turning food fields into fuel fields. The development of biomass projects, such as digesters for district heating, would be inhibited if bureaucracy tried to micro-manage the sourcing of fuel at this stage. But Dr Scurlock added: “Our initial reaction is cautiously optimistic.”

Louis Fell, a renewables expert at George F White, said he knew of a farmer who extracted underground water and was looking into a heat exchanger to take warmth out of it - one of the possibilities the RHI should support.

The scheme is being introduced in two phases – targeting mostly large non-domestic heat users from July 2011 onwards, but open to schemes supplying groups of housing and with more support for individual households coming in October 2012.

Meetings on renewables

George F White has open meetings on renewables at Romanby Golf Club, Northallerton, April 13, and Driffield Rugby Club, April 14, from 6.30pm both days. Contact Louis Fell or Tom Mason on 01430 876010.

Rudie Humphrey recommends www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk and www.forestry.gov.uk/yhwoodfuel. The Forestry Commission has just published a ‘Yellow Pages’ for woodfuel suppliers and burner retailers and installers, sources of advice on regulations, and grants and more. For a regional directory, see http://tinyurl.com/6bc5uwk/