Farmers turning to renewable energy as fuel prices rocket

FARMERS in East Yorkshire are investing heavily in renewable energy, with 50 turbines already built and 20 more in the pipeline.

Generating electricity and being able to sell the surplus back onto the National Grid is proving increasingly popular as fuel prices continue to rise.

At next week’s eastern area planning committee, four farmers are applying for turbines.

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Decisions are expected on plans for a 15-metre turbine at Park Farm, Langtoft, a 26.4-metre turbine at Fordon, another 26.4-metre turbine at Brandesburton and two 18-metre turbines at Towthorpe Wold.

According to research by Barclays, which has announced a £100m fund for farms looking to invest in renewables, a third of dairy farmers are exploring options such as biomass boilers and PV panels to generate heat and electricity and any surplus under the feed-in tariff initiative.

Some farmers locally are even looking to renewable energy as an alternative to pensions.

Since April last year when the tariffs – payments to ordinary people for the energy they produce – were introduced, East Riding Council has approved around 50 small-scale turbines and says there are another 20 in the pipeline.

Proven Energy, a Scottish-based manufacturer and supplier of turbines, says its Proven 35-2, which features in one of the applications, can cost about £60,000, but pay for itself in around five-and-a-half years and can provide an income of £10,000 thereafter.

John Coleman, who farms at West Field Farm, Burton Fleming, was one of the first in the area to have a Proven 35-2 installed last November, and is now considering a second turbine as well as installing solar photovoltaic panels on his barn.

He said: “We are going to get harvested then sit round the table and decide whether we are going to go for one or other or both.”

Eight months into production the first turbine was not generating as much energy as projected, because this year has not been as windy as normal. But Mr Coleman said: “Even at 20 per cent lower than projected, it’s still a good investment.”

He added: “When the wind is blowing we take out what we need automatically and the Npower bill drops appreciably, but when there’s no wind we use Npower supplies entirely. It is exporting well over half of our production.”

Borrowing the capital needed for the investment has not been a problem. He said: “It is a big investment for a small farm...235 acres is quite a bit of security.”

Each of the applications before the committee is recommended for approval, but a spokesman for Proven Energy said planners in general tended to be risk-averse, and concerns about noise and other issues, usually connected with large-scale developments, tended to crop up.

He added: “The main stumbling block is planning, trying to get things through planning. We are trying to educate planners that a small-scale wind turbine is not a huge wind farm.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of beliefs and aspirations out there, ranging from aspirational targets from the World Health Organisation for noise and visual impact. The products are meant to last for 25 years and feed-in-tariffs are index-linked for 20 years. You are looking to something that’s going to be here for a long time and that’s something that seems to be creating problems for planners.”

Environment and land use adviser James Copeland from the National Farmers Union said: “A lot of farmers are looking at diversification. Certainly one of the drivers is the increase in the cost of energy and how they can reduce the amount of energy they are having to buy in from the Grid. They are also looking at stability of energy supply and meeting green targets.

“The draft national planning policy framework that has just come out supports new developments which provide economic growth in rural areas, which we see as a very positive approach.”