Demand for wind energy is increasing fast.
Renewable energy accounts for a modest 3% of UK electricity generation, but the government wants to increase that to 10% by 2010 and 20% by 2020.
The UK has 114 wind farms involving 1430 turbines and providing enough electricity to run 735,000 homes.
To get 10% of the UK’s electricity from the wind would involve 6000, 1MW turbines or 3000, 2MW units.
Is my farm suitable for wind turbines?
If you have enough wind, maybe.
But you’ll need to be able to provide the following:
How much land do I need?
20 turbines take up about 100ha (240 acres), but only 1% of that area is taken out of use. The rest can be used for arable crops or grazing.
Wind farms are getting bigger, with average size up from 7MW in 1997 to an expected 50MW in 2010.
Do I need planning permission?
Wind farms of less than 50MW require local planning permission and consultation with relevant stakeholders, such as neighbours.
National planning policies, set out in Planning Policy Statement 22, support the development of small-scale wind energy, but deciding factors include environmental considerations, access to the site, noise and visual effect.
In Wales, land must be identified on the TAN8 guidance note as having the potential for wind farming.
Projects above 50MW are automatically referred to the Department of Trade and Industry in England and Wales, or the Scottish Executive.
There are different arrangements in Northern Ireland.
What sort of reaction can I expect from the local community?
Consulting the local community is essential if the proposal is to be accepted.
Although about 80% of the public supports wind power, locals often have significant fears when faced with the prospect of a wind farm in their area.
Some are worried about the look of the turbines, or increased noise levels, or falling house prices and tourism levels.
Landowners should be prepared for some animosity and should hold public meetings to answer people’s concerns.
Can I use a wind turbine to power my own farm?
You can install a stand-alone system to generate electricity to power small items like batteries for electric fencing.
To use wind power on a larger scale you can either feed directly to larger batteries or storage heaters or install a grid-connected system that connects directly to the existing mains electricity supply.
What if I want to sell electricity to the national grid?
This also requires a grid-connected system, which needs to be approved by your local electricity supplier.
Costs of connecting to the main grid can be extremely high, covering metering, connection, safety protection and so on.
Usually developers will approach you directly and ask for an option to lease the land for a small fee.
They then carry out all the required surveys and obtain planning permission before paying a fixed rent for the land.
You can seek planning permission yourself, but this is far more expensive and risky, although the rent received can be significantly higher.
You can then team up with a developer or apply for planning permission yourself, although this can prove costly with no guarantee of success.
Once permission has been granted, you can run the site yourself or sell the business to an operator, which will pay an annual rent and operate and maintain the turbines.
You should employ experienced advisers (who have dealt with wind farms before) to advise on the level of payments and other terms of the documents.
It’s also important to take legal advice when agreeing terms and conditions and to deal only with companies with proven track records.
Should I expect a lot of disruption to my land?
The area disturbed in creating the foundation of each turbine is about 20m wide plus one or two 20m x 30m hard standings for the crane.
Once it’s complete, however, grass or crops can be re-seeded up to the base of each tower, which is about 5m in diameter.
Access tracks are also required, plus maybe a small electrical sub-station building.
High-voltage cables run underground from each wind turbine and must be considered before any land excavations are carried out (eg drainage channels or ditching).
After construction, the operator will require access for maintenance and servicing about twice a year.
Is there much paperwork involved?
Planning permission and wayleaves must be obtained for the turbines, roads and buildings, as well as any new connection to the national grid.
Connection, supply and meter operator agreements are drawn up between the local electricity supply company and the project operator.
You should also ensure that the operator covers any claims made by third-parties in respect of the wind farm.
This should be backed by adequate insurance.
How long would I need to sign up for?
A wind turbine and lease typically last for about 15 to 25 years.
How long will it take to get the turbines up and running?
Two years minimum, typically made up of 18 months planning and six months construction.
How much will it cost?
Big commercial wind farms carry 20 turbines at a total cost of about 14m.
However, there is also a trend towards smaller wind farms in less windy, more populated parts of the country.
You can deal directly with an operator at no cost – although the rent you get will be a lot lower.
However if the turbine is 30kW or smaller then a cheaper meter can be used.
Second-hand turbines are also available from farms that have been decommissioned or upgraded.
Often sourced from Holland, Germany and Denmark, they cost about 600,000 per MW installed – 100,000 cheaper than buying new.
They are usually more suitable for smaller projects and you should check for a sound service history and a warranty if possible.
Is it profitable?
Depending on location, wind speed, grid connection and access, landowners can earn between 5000 and 20,000/MW a year, with the highest-paid sites in Wales and the lowest in central England.
You should expect 1000-5000/year for granting an option to develop the site.
Where can I get funding?
Most projects are funded by developers or operators.
If you want a smaller, self-sufficient wind turbine you can seek support from the Community Renewables Initiative, the DTI and its Scottish equivalent.
These co-fund community-based schemes and offer advice on how to get started.
See www.clear-skies.org or www.est.org.uk/schri.
DEFRA’s Rural Enterprise Scheme and the Objective 1 programme may offer funding for schemes that form part of the development and improvement of an agricultural business.
Schemes to benefit the local community can use the Leader Plus scheme, also run by DEFRA.
In Scotland, the Agricultural Business Development Scheme is available for farmers, crofters and their immediate families.
Also try Crofting Counties Agricultural Grants.
Another approach for larger projects may be to seek project finance from ethical investment schemes, such as Triodos Renewables, an initiative of Triodos Bank, or Energy4.
What happens when a wind farm is decommissioned?
At the end of the turbine’s life (about 20-25 years) the wind farm can be either decommissioned and the site re-instated, or modernised with new turbines, subject to local authority approval.