Financially Viable Farms Through Renewables
By Anne Lewis-Schneider
Nearly 40% of farmers are investing in renewable forms of energy generation and here is the reason for it. It is said that 25% of all global greenhouse gasses can be attributed to our food system. Farms rely in the main upon coal and fossil fuels. Rather than labelling the farmer as the baddie, they should be seen as part of the solution through the generation of renewable energy using waste matter. 70% of the UK is under agriculture in comparison to Chinaís 55.7% and the USAís 45 %. This means that there are large tracts of land that have significant plant and animal waste, and this is what makes a farm an ideal place to invest in renewable energy. Farms donít just have to be used for agriculture, but can also be used for solar heating and wind energy as well as biofuels.
Farms and rural communities can actually play a significant role in the generating of energy using alternative sources of fuel. A case in point is that of poultry farmer Mr Nigel Joice, who has 8,500 tonnes of chicken manure from his farm in a year. He decided three years ago to take out a £1.8 million bank loan to invest in a biomass plant to assist him in turning what is a waste product into an asset. He also decided to introduce solar panels onto his farm and the result of this is phenomenal. He obtained a license to use the chicken manure as a fuel rather than using biomass woodchips and this has brought him even closer to realising his dream of having enough energy to run his farming enterprise solely on self-generated energy. Over the period of a year he has been able to reduce his gas bills by 92% and his solar project is expected to reduce his grid consumption by a staggering 80% during the day. He initially thought that it would take him eight years to repay the loan but with the savings that he has been able to achieve, that has been halved. He is now actually earning money via the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Feed in Tariffs he receives.
Renewable Energy Consultant Tobi Kellner says that in some ways, the additional income that is generated by renewable energy may be the one thing that makes farming a viable proposition for the next generation. The National Farmers Union is calling upon government to increase its commitment in community based projects to include rural businesses as well, where it can be shown that there will be a significant benefit to communities. The figure stands at 40% for farmers who are investing in renewable energy, which is up from figures of just 5%in 2010. This is being accomplished by the farmers themselves in the large part with support coming from small areas of government. The thing is that farmers are not being viewed seriously as part of the energy solution. It would appear that funding in the majority is only readily forthcoming for large solutions that are mainly centralised, and this needs to be changed. This can only be done by showing what contribution can be made by smaller community projects being funded.
The National Trust is Britainís largest landowner and they have committed themselves to be producing 50%of their energy by means of renewables by 2020. The Trust has already installed about 250 small-to-medium scale projects on its land and hopes to do more with assistance from Good Energy. They are also working with communities elsewhere to develop other projects as far afield as in North Wales. Sustainable Charlbury CIC director Tim Crisp says that more financial and social benefits need to be directed towards communities. The CIC was established in 2007 and was initially formed to reduce emissions in the Cotswold town. Cornbury Estates has made provision for 30 acres to be made available on a 20 year lease and in conjunction with several other interested parties hopes to have the Southill Solar Farm completed by the middle of 2014. Feed in Tariffs and power purchase monies should amount to £85,000 per annum for the community.
By getting communities to build large scale energy projects that are owned by them is the way to produce sustainable local energy for the future. Many rural communities and farmers have the skills, land and subsidies available to enable them to invest in renewable energy, but they lack the infrastructure to take farm energy a step further so that it becomes a benefit for their communities and beyond. Farmers are used to providing what they need to get the job of farming done and need to be encouraged to see energy generation as a means of supplying others and earning an income from the energy they produce and supply, and that is the goal that they have to work towards.
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