Cloisters Farm

Northamptonshire

Background: A 65ha (160-acre) dairy farm on the Northamptonshire/Oxfordshire border, farmed by Charles Reader and family. Home to an 80-head pedigree Jersey herd, farmed along organic principles, the Readers have already installed heat exchangers and solar panels to the dairy unit in a bid to cut energy costs and follow sustainable principles.

Current system: The five-bedroom bungalow is currently heated by an oil-fired boiler. This costs about £950 per year. The total current electric bill is around £3500 per year. Insulation and double-glazing have been upgraded to save energy.

Energy load: Oil-fired heating requirement is about 24 megawatt hours (MWh) per year. Current total electric requirement is an additional 44MWh. Solar panels alone save around 2.5-3MWh per year.

Mr Pollock’s renewable suggestion: Initially the Readers should consider a wind turbine solution to provide the electricity. A biomass woodchip burner or ground-source heat pump could be considered to replace the current oil-fired system.

Capital cost: The turbine(s) would be provided by a third-party company who would lease the land, as well as provide cheap electricity. Initial enquiries suggest two companies could be interested – one would look to install a large 2MW turbine, another suggestion is three to five 15kW turbines. Or the Readers could pay for and install their own turbine at a cost, including associated plant and installation, of £15,000-£40,000.

Revenue: Provided a commercial scheme for the large turbine gets planning approval, the Readers could get about £10,000 a year in rent and buy electricity at a fixed, long-term price of just 4-5p per unit (compared with 7p/unit current price). Because of the vagaries of wind power generation it would be necessary to import some electricity on still days but most of their needs would be met, and conversely most of the electricity generated would be exported into the local grid.

Planning: This is the big hurdle. The Readers are in an exposed location, so any turbines will generate adequate power, and while the local south Northamptonshire council is keen to encourage smaller scale projects, the larger turbine may meet local resistance. Grant-funding would be unlikely.

Tax: Rental receipts would be treated as Schedule D income.

Verdict: “The environmental side of things is important to us – we are keen to do our bit for climate change,” says Mr Reader. “What’s more, energy costs really are prohibitive these days, and we need to do something to bring them under control. If we can get the planning side right, there’s a really attractive rental income we could get. If not, we need to be sure that if we installed a wind turbine, it would pay its way.”