This week industry trade body RenewableUK held a lunch event in partnership with the River Cottage food business and the online community Energyshare. The lunch was held on the Devon/Cornwall border. The Great British Wind Meal was used as an opportunity to publicize several recent items of research in regards the relationship between British farming and renewable energy.
Several of the speakers at the event suggested that a greater uptake of renewable energy generation by British farmers would help the United Kingdom to meet both it’s food and energy needs. One speaker suggested that as well as helping the UK to meet it’s renewable energy targets farmers stand to benefit from on-site generation by it allowing them to reduce the costs involved in producing food and also ensuring that their businesses are in a better position to navigate through at troubled economic climate for the farming industry.
Speaking at the event, Forum for the Future’s principal sustainability adviser Nicky Conway remarked:
“There are about 300,000 farms in the UK so if you are going to have renewable energy generation at any level of scale, farmers have the land and the capacity to install those renewable energy schemes.
“Therefore they should be a target audience because they have the land and the resources to produce the energy”.
Ms Conway went on to state that Forum for the Future was attempting to increase the uptake of renewable energy generation developments on UK farms:
“The specific way that we would like to do that is to try and build a common evidence-based vision, and [highlight] why can farm-based energy can play such a critical role in the UK’s energy system rather than being a niche activity.
“The other thing we want to do is unlock some of the key barriers. Things like grid connections and accessing finance, particularly for lower income farmers.”
Farm owner Robin Hanbury-Tenison argued against claims that renewable energy developments take land away from food production – giving the example of his own solar panels:
“A lot of people say that PV panels are taking up land, wasting land but far from it if it is done properly.
“My sheep prefer being under or around the panels than being in the open fields. The grass grows better, they also have lovely shelter and they lamb underneath them.”
Attendees at the lunch also heard the results of a new survey carried out in partnership between Nottingham Trent University, the Farmers Weekly and Forum for the Future. The survey was carried out this summer and asked nearly 700 UK farmers for their opinions on farm-based renewable energy. Interestingly 38% of the farmers surveyed revealed that they were already generating renewable energy on their farms with the two most popular technology types being solar PV and wind energy. The majority of those generating electricity from wind energy are feeding at least some proportion of their output into the National Grid. The average capacity of these developments was 176kW however it should be noted that larger scale developments are perfectly possible given the right site and the expertise and experience needed to navigate through the planning process. Furthermore 61% of those who are not already generating renewable energy specified that they would be likely to do so over the next five years. Despite that fact that the majority of those surveyed are already generating renewable energy 76% of respondents did not believe that the full potential of farm-based renewable energy generation was being realized.
The survey was also used to explore farmers perceptions on what the benefits of renewable energy generation are. 76% of those surveyed (the most-widely held opinion) felt that farm-based renewable energy generation helped to reduce the costs of the other parts of a farm business. 73% felt that renewables provided a safe-means of generating non-fossil fuel energy. 72% felt farm-based renewables helped to contribute to the country’s energy security. 71% expressed the opinion that renewable energy generation provided a good return on investment compared to more traditional farming activities and 65% felt renewable generation helped to combat climate change by reducing a farms carbon footprint. Interestingly 81% of participants felt that family, neighbours and other farmers would approve of a decision to invest in renewable energy generation. These results would suggest that there is a widespread belief amongst the UK’s farming community that renewable energy generation represents a positive investment for the industry.
The farming industry’s opinion on the barriers to farm-based renewable energy generation were also explored in the survey with five problems emerging as the crucial barriers to completing a renewable energy development. 84% of those surveyed identified the major stumbling block as the high investment costs involved. 53% felt that red tape represented a major barrier to completing a development.52% felt the planning process to be cumbersome and costly. 45% felt that local opposition could be a stumbling block and 39% raised the issue of accessing a bank loan. At this point we at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) would like to state that have the expertise and experience to address all these issues. We require no investment from the farmers we enter into partnership with, we have vast experience of dealing with the planning process at both a national and local level and all the red tape that may be involved. We always take steps to involve and liaise with local communities through programs such as our Community Contribution and we do not need bank loans to fund our developments.
It was left to broadcaster and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, responsible for the Wind Meal’s menu, to give the final word on the role that British farmers have to play in renewable energy generation, emphasising that wind energy can be regarded as another crop:
“All farmers are in the business of renewable energy – that’s what food is,
“Farmers produce food, we consume that food for our energy, and for farmers to stay in business it has to be a renewable business.
“The idea of farmers diversifying into ‘pure energy’ as well as food energy makes a whole lot of sense.
“We know that wind is going to be an important part of our energy into the future.
“Who has got best access to wind in the country? Our farmers.”
We at Intelligent Land Investments are very pleased to be playing our part in bringing the benefits of renewable energy generation to as many farmers as possible.