Energy in farming
The farming sector is ideally poised to take advantage of growth in renewable energy – but the process is not always simple
Rural Scotland will again be focusing its sights on Edinburgh this month as tens of thousands come to the Royal Highland Show.
The event, now in its 174th year, is a national institution and represents all areas of agriculture from livestock shows, food and drink through to the technology used to improve modern farming.
Yet again, alongside the more traditional elements of farming, the organisers have made space for renewable energy.
The Renewable and Eco Village which will feature exhibitors including producers of biomass boilers, solar power and wind turbines, demonstrates the potential in the agricultural sector, with the sponsors, McDermott Group, saying the show provides the “perfect showcase to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to establish renewable energy as a substantial, reliable and cost-effective contributor to the UK’s energy mix.” Earlier this year the Scottish Government launched its agri-renewables strategy with the aim of using Scotland’s farmers to help meet ambitious green energy targets.
Launching the strategy, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland has massive green energy potential and in many ways leads the way when it comes to implementing and using our natural resources for our own benefit.
“Farmers and crofters have access to our nation’s abundance of natural resources and are ideally placed to contribute towards Scotland’s low carbon economy. I’m confident that this strategy can help them introduce agri-renewable technologies best suited to local circumstances.
“Our climate is changing and we must be ready to face and adapt to the important challenges ahead. Introducing agri-renewable schemes will not only ensure a sustainable future for the industry, but also see communities benefit from green energy generation.”
A Scottish Lands and Estates investigation released in April showed that 60 per cent of its respondents involved with renewable energy had seen increased income, while 49 per cent saw it as a sector with potential for growth.
However, Savills Energy, which carried out its own survey of landowners, found that while 70 per cent of landowners had assessed the renewable energy potential of their estates and a further 12 per cent planned to do so within the next year, 72 per cent were concerned about the capital costs and availability of funds and 22 per cent said they were worried about the planning process.
Setting up renewable energy projects on farmland is seen as a way to diversify business interests and make businesses more secure.
Nick Green, head of energy for Savills in Scotland, which has four offices in Scotland and is involved in about 23MW of hydro power and 2.3GW of onshore wind projects, said the introduction of the Feed-in-Tariff subsidy for renewables in 2010 had kick-started interest.
He said: “Farmers have probably been amongst the early adopters on renewables and have been active within the sector.
“They’ve really led the way in terms of installations, small wind turbine installations but have been increasingly looking at diversifying technologies like solar photovoltaics and others.”
He added: “I think farmers have really taken renewables to heart, they’ve seen the opportunity and been quick to adopt. But I think they’ve probably been frustrated along the way and I don’t think any of them would turn round and say it was easy. A lot of them have found it a challenging thing to get into.”
The FarmPath project, which was funded by the European Commission, looked at the use of wind energy in Aberdeenshire, alongside anaerobic digestion in Germany and the Czech Republic.
Between 2004 and 2011 there were 777 applications for wind turbines in Aberdeenshire, 508 of which were submitted in the final year.
A study of the economic benefits of wind energy by the Scottish Agricultural College in 2010 found that 70 per cent of wind energy projects in Aberdeenshire were owned by local projects – but this represented only 27 per cent of the electricity produced.
In April 2010 Feed-in-Tariffs were introduced specifically targeting small-scale production with a production limit of 5MW. However, these have now been scaled back.
Speaking at the All Energy Conference in Aberdeen last month, NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller warned this created uncertainty and said the industry needed security if farmers were to invest in new technology.
Green told Holyrood: “The main hurdles that farmers have faced and continue to face are planning and the risks that entails – particularly with regards to wind turbines – there’s a lot of upfront costs before you know whether a scheme is going to get the necessary consents for you to build it, so you are having to speculate a bit of money up front.
“A lot of farmers have not fallen foul of the rules but they’ve found the hurdles higher in different parts of the country than they maybe anticipated.”
Areas like grid connection could see substantial costs and delays for farmers and Green added that particularly with wind turbines, there was a technological risk where the turbines have either failed or not delivered what they were expected to do.
He said: “Those who have done a lot of due diligence on their technology are probably more satisfied with the outputs than some others.”
The agri-renewable strategy is in part aimed at helping farmers overcome the hurdles, identifying the six key areas of community involvement; skills and advice; planning and consents; grid connection; finance and technology and research and innovation.
Green said while there could be a large increase in the next 12 to 18 months of projects already in the planning process, things were more difficult for new entrants.
“It is a more difficult environment now. There is the reduction in tariff support levels for the Feed-in-Tariff and the change from Renewable Obligations Certificates to Energy Market Reform.
“That’s going to see reducing support levels for technology so I think we will see less projects coming forward.”
But he added: “There will still be projects coming forward but they will need to be of the highest quality to be viable.
“You’re going to only get the best projects coming forward and being successful as planning is dictated by the tariff support levels but also a much more rigorous planning process now than when the Feed-in-Tariff started five years ago.”
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