Wind energy is proving its worth for one major poultry producer in the east of England, as Andy Collings reports

Matching the renewable technology to the site is crucial to optimise the returns, and in wind-swept East Anglia wind turbines have been the choice for Crown Chicken.

“If we can find ways of reducing our electricity costs without having to pay out a lot of money, then I’m all for it,” says agriculture director Matthew Ward.

Majoring in broiler production, electricity is a key input for the business which sees 400,000 chickens leaving the company’s farms each week of the year.

“Crown Chicken has 21 broiler sites in East Anglia and is a self-contained operation in that we have our own feed mill, breeding and hatching facilities,” explains Mr Ward.

Like many farmers, he is acutely aware of the potential savings which could be achieved if a suitable alternative method of electricity generation could be employed.

“I favour wind powered systems – the openness of the East Anglian landscape means it has its share of windy days, rather more perhaps than we have sun. I did have concerns though, that any noise created by the turbines could affect the performance of our birds, particularly where we have the breeding flocks.”

After some consultation with Norwich firm Windcrop, which specialises in the smaller 5kW wind turbines now increasingly used in agricultural businesses, the agreed solution was to place a “test” wind turbine and monitor the results.

Last autumn, a site was selected close to one of the breeding farms and a 15m high, 5kW wind turbine installed. The trial was run over eight weeks during which time the turbine generated an estimated 2,000kWh and resulted in electricity cost savings of about £200.

“There were absolutely no problems with the birds, which carried on doing just what we expected of them,” says Mr Ward. “On this basis we decided to proceed and put up wind turbines at some of the broiler sites.”

PLANNING CONSENT

One of the challenges with wind turbines is obtaining the necessary planning permission and success often appears to depend on the relevant planning district and the officers concerned.

There are occasions where specific issues surface, such as local radar coverage and environmental concerns. These can prolong, or even lead to the rejection, of the planning application.

One of Windcrop’s services is to obtain the planning permission for the client. This was granted for the first three turbines last winter and the turbines were duly installed at Crown Chicken’s Irongate Farm in Heveningham, Suffolk.

Each turbine was wired into a shed in less than a day and they were commissioned on Christmas Eve. Planning permission is being sought for a further nine turbines.

“The turbines are very different from those used in commercial wind farms – in fact they are remarkably unobtrusive, both in their construction and their operation,” comments Mr Ward.

The deal is that Windcrop provides, installs and maintains the turbines and retains ownership of them, at no cost to the landowner. As such, the company, which is also setting up base in Yorkshire, receives the Feed-in-Tariff payments, while Crown Chicken gets to use the electricity generated and reduce its electricity costs.

TURBINE PERFORMANCE

In many ways the sites used in broiler production are well suited to installing turbines as there is ample space between the sheds.

The turbines themselves have three blades which directly drive the 5kW generator. To ensure safety, the blades automatically feather if wind speeds become excessive and blade rotation starts to exceed 220rpm.

So, after just six months into wind powered electricity production, how’s it all going and what saving is being made?

“We had a reasonably windy January which produced about 15% of the electricity we had predicted for the year, which is for each turbine to produce 9,000kWh,” says Mr Ward.

“Our business buys electricity at 9p/kWh which, if you do the sums, means we should save ourselves about £2,500 a year.”

The annual electricity bill for the farm is in the £30,000 region so, should the other nine turbines come on stream, Mr Ward should see his electricity bill cut by about a third.