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Renewable Energy Sources Explored at Peebles Monitor Farm Meeting

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Farm scale energy generation from renewable sources was the main discussion topic at the recent Peebles monitor farm meeting, hosted by monitor farmers, Ed and Kate Rowell.

The couple farm Hundleshope Farm, a 1,800 acre (729 ha) unit just south of Peebles, which is one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland.

Prior to the meeting, Jim Campbell, head of the renewable energy team within Scotland’s Rural College’s Environment and Design group, had assessed the potential for wind, solar, hydro and biomass power generation at the monitor farm. 

He found that whilst there is sufficient wind for wind turbines, it is in areas too far away from the steading and grid connection.

Costly structural work would also be required before the most suitable south facing farm building roof could accommodate solar panels, making such a project on this particular building uneconomical. However there may be alternative solar power options worthy of consideration in the future.

With respect to hydro energy, Hundleshope farm has a constantly flowing burn, but Mr Campbell found that there was insufficient volume and fall to justify the capital expenditure of a 21st Century hydro scheme.

The Rowells also do not have access to enough firewood to fuel a biomass venture.

William Aitken, who farms near Blyth Bridge, is a community group member of the monitor farm. He has erected three 12 kW wind turbines, which started generating power in June 2012. Sharing some of his own experiences, he told the group some of the main points to consider with such a project including: working with a wind turbine company you can trust is essential, and that planning permission can be a significant issue.

He also advised that wind speed, while crucial, is not the only site consideration. Vehicular access and distance to a Scottish Power meter are also important. Turbines need to be sited no more than 300 - 400 metres away from grid connection, longer distances demand thicker, more expensive cable.

Mr Aitken went on to tell the group that establishing that there is sufficient, consistent wind at the chosen site to ensure the turbines will be generating power for a minimum of 20% of the time, is also key.

He added that line space on the public power line, to enable the grid to accommodate the additional power, must be booked and paid for. In some areas there is no spare grid capacity and it is essential to check availability of line space early in the project.

Locating transformers and inverters close to a Scottish Power meter, inside a good building, is also extremely important.

Feed in Tariff (FIT) is paid on all units generated. Mr Aitken currently purchases power for approximately 12p per unit and receives 4p per unit for “exported” power. He advised negotiation of purchased rate with the power supplier.

He also recommended maximising use of farm generated power consistently throughout the day, thereby saving the cost of buying in power at a far higher rate than the rate received for “exported” power.

Getting professional tax advice regarding capital expenditure, was also recommended by Mr Aitken.

“Including the FIT in my calculations, which is reducing for new wind turbine installations from April 2014, I had hoped for a return on capital of between 15 to 20 percent,” Mr Aitken told the group.

“For the first twelve months to June 2013, it’s been around 17.5%. This should provide pay-back in approximately six years.

“I have however decided that I will need to budget more than anticipated for maintenance, in particular the turbine blades.”

Mr Aitken’s case study illustrated that with careful attention to many factors, farm scale power generation from renewable sources can be worthwhile. For those wishing to investigate the potential on their farm, one of the first considerations is the capital outlay.

Also speaking at the meeting was Donald Stewart, an Agricultural Business Manager with Bank of Scotland. Mr Stewart told the group: “We are looking to support farm businesses that want to invest in small scale renewable energy equipment on farm.

“This will help the business become more resilient by giving it greater control over its future energy requirements and/or an additional income stream from Feed in Tariffs paid for generating power for the national grid.

“We agreed in excess of £20 million of lending for a range of renewable energy installations in 2013, including hydro electricity, wind turbines and biomass boiler installations.”

The next Peebles monitor farm meeting will be on 26th February.

For further information, please contact either of the joint facilitators:

Jennifer Brown - Tel: 01835 823322. Email: jennifer.brown@sac.co.uk

or

Chris McDonald. Tel: 0131 535 3436. Email: Chris.mcdonald@sac.co.uk

For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings, please visit: www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms