Adam Twine is a man with a mission. Which is fortunate, since he has had to battle against some of the most intractable bureaucracy ever erected by a government department to achieve his green energy dream.
But then he is plainly a man with strong principles and that look in the eye of someone who will not be diverted from what he feels is right. Even before he started farming at Colleymore Farm near Coleshill in Wiltshire 25 years ago, he had a clear idea of what was important in life.
“I was an organic evangelist at college, as well as an anti-nuclear power campaigner. When I took over the farm from my father I looked at it very much from a resources point of view.
“Generating clean energy from our own renewable energy resources – as long as it can be done economically – is a no-brainer.”
This is a busy farm, with 750 acres tenanted from the National Trust and another 450 acres half-owned by him. Milk from the 120 Friesian x Brown Swiss cows goes to the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative and beef cattle are marketed through the Organic Livestock Marketing Co-operative.
Meanwhile there are 120 acres of organic oats, beans and wheat plus a further 200 acres of combineable crops in conventional cropping on an old airfield.
Adam can claim to have been something of a pioneer in renewable energy terms. He started growing short-rotation coppice willow 15 years ago and three years later was using photovoltaic panels to power the pump that operated the farm’s reed-bed dirty water disposal system.
But his biggest project by far has been the wind farm. The old airfield, situated on a flat, relatively exposed site, would be an ideal site for wind turbines, he reckoned.
However, the planners were distinctly sceptical and it took 12 years to get the consent he needed, not helped by the difficulties of getting machines from ultra-busy turbine manufacturers in the first place.
The extra cost also meant he had to sell some land. “It got very bleak at times,” he says. But eventually, dogged persistence won out and the project moved forward.
Most people would be content with that, but Adam was keen to make his wind farm the first community-owned one in the UK. After another round of endless hard work and perseverance, he managed (with the help of Energy 4 All) to get 2400 people to invest anything between £250 and £20,000 in the project and raised the £4.5 million needed to fund five 1.3MW turbines.
The Siemens turbines give a 12% return each year for 25 years, so the deal for the investors is a good one. And the 12GWh of electricity the turbines generate, in a neat symmetry, are enough to provide electricity for some 2500 homes. The power is sold to Smartest Energy and Good Energy on short-term contracts and delivered to the local network.
He has also set up a not-for-profit community interest company – the Farm Carbon-Cutting Toolkit (FCCT) – which involves getting farmers who already have a renewable energy project up and running to talk to other farmers who are thinking of taking the plunge.
The launch of FCCT and the first discussion groups took place in the second week of June and more than 100 farmers came – some from as far away as Pembrokeshire and Cumbria. Many were keen to get involved in generating green energy but needed the sort of practical, down-to-earth information and experience that only another farmer can provide.
Adam’s plan is that FCCT will steadily grow, with other farmers becoming part of it and running workshops in their own areas. “It could become an important way of demystifying the technology and the grants maze for farmers,” he says.
Will it succeed? With Adam’s strong principles and limitless persistence, it’s got a very good chance.
• 1200 acres farmed
• 120 organic dairy cows
• Organic beef, oats, beans and wheat
• Solar-powered pump for reed bed
• Five 1.3MW wind turbines
• First UK community-owned wind farm on this scale.
WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED
•Tremendous communicator and organiser
• Energy saving seemed to be in his DNA
• Very principled about all aspects of his business