Electricity costs have risen by 60% over the past two years, but green options such as solar or wind power remain too expensive, with little payback.

The realistic option for most milk producers to cut energy costs, therefore, is to buy better and use less, says FEC Services project engineer Jon Swain.

Price rises are hitting some farms particularly hard as they come to the end of fixed two-year contracts.

Having paid 5p/kWh for day rates and 2.7p/kWh for night rates, they must suddenly find 8p and 3.5p respectively, he says.

While hopeful that prices may drop somewhat in 2007, he advises producers to secure fixed contracts for only 12 months ahead and suggests an energy audit.

This looks at equipment on site to see how efficiently it is run, providing facts, figures, cost savings and alternative equipment to make a business decision.

With up to 85% of an electricity bill used by vacuum pumps, milk cooling and water heating, these are the prime focus for potential savings, says Mr Swain.

“Unfortunately, vacuum pumps tend to be a case of you have what you have.

Milk cooling, though, can be set to coincide with cheap rate periods of electricity, while the plate cooler can be checked to ensure it has a decent water rate running through it.

“Mains water is expensive, so it may be cheaper to turn off the cooler and use more electricity to cool milk, particularly if cows are drinking troughs dry after milking.”

At the very least, Mr Swain recommends regular monitoring of electricity consumption.

“Electricity is nice and clean, it’s easy, but it’s not like a tractor fuel tank where you know how much is being used because you fill it up.

More estimates are used by suppliers these days, so read your meter regularly and know where you are.

As a rule of thumb, for monthly bills, read weekly, for quarterly bills read monthly.

It takes a year’s information to see patterns develop.”

Electricity is often ignored when looking at input costs.

It’s boring so producers often focus on bigger things, says the MDC’s Jane Charlesworth.

“It’s just accepted as a fixed cost, but once broken down you can make real savings.

These energy audits have shown that sometimes it is something as small as timer switches being aligned correctly, while VSD pumps have potential to deliver big savings,” she says.

fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk