A recent survey carried out by Barclays Bank has revealed that two thirds of all of the 200,000 farmers operating in the United Kingdom want to invest in renewable energy generating technology to install on their land. 300 dairy farmers from across England, Scotland, and Wales were consulted for the poll.Of these 300 farmers, 80% stated that they recognised the financial savings that renewables could provide by allowing them to generate their own power and reduce the amount of electricity they purchase from the national grid. 60%, of those polled, saw that technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectricity would also create additional income for their business as any excess of power generated could then be sold back to the national grid.The majority of farmers who participated in the survey also revealed that they intended to install renewable energy technologies on their farms in the next year.
As he announced the findings of the survey, Travers Clarke-Walker – business product and marketing director for Barclays, commented that: “For farmers to invest makes sense – it’s good for the environment, but for the majority it’s about good business…
Renewable energy production offers new opportunities
“Renewable energy production offers farmers a further opportunity to develop their businesses and add to their traditionally vital roles of producing food and managing the countryside. Farmers see this as a win-win – lower costs and increased income.”
The results of the survey are in keeping with earlier research carried out by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Natwest. They carried out a survey of 250 agricultural businesses, finding that one third of those asked wanted to deploy or install renewable energy generation technology but that over a half did not have the available funds to do so.
Barclays conducted the survey in the run up to the launch of its new fund to bankroll renewable energy projects. The fund has been planned with the support of organisations such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) who will be used by the bank in an advisory role on loan applications. NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond stated: “Given the significant up-front costs of renewable technologies, commercial lending is essential to unlocking these opportunities…
“The opportunities for farmers to produce renewable energy, thereby helping to de-carbonise the economy and contribute to the UK’s long-term energy security, are there for all to see.”
Of course, there are alternative ways to fund a renewable scheme which can bypass the stress of having to deal with a bank. Stress which can only be exacerbated by the addition of the uncertainty of a planning application and the additional costs which the planning process can throw up unexpectedly. A company such as our own, which asks for no funding from the farmers and landowners which we sign up and is experienced in dealing with the variety of criteria, constraints and local plans which individual Local Authorities establish allows people to continue to devote their time to the day to day running of their core businesses. Navigating the ever changing maze of planning policy and fulfilling the various information requests of a Local Authority Planning Department is a task best suited to those who do not have a farm to run in these difficult times.
Nationwide changes to the planning process for renewable technologies, both at UK and Scottish Parliament (whose Agri-Renewables Strategy will be unveiled before summer 2012) level are in the pipeline but these changes are not expected to make the process so easy as to enable anyone to get planning permission for a renewable development, or to allow the wholescale industrialisation of the British countryside. Liz Pearce, chief executive officer of the British Property Federation made this point following the unveiling of Barclays new scheme: “Claims that our cherished countryside is to be slathered in concrete misunderstand the system that has been proposed and the safeguards that it will contain. Councils – not developers – will have the power to dictate where developments will go, and planning applications that deviate from these local plans will quite rightly be thrown in the bin.”
It seems certain then that expertise in such matters will still remain essential to successfully installing a renewable energy supply in our countryside…