2011 FW Awards winner: Green Energy Farmer

Neil Gourlay

Auchencheyne, Moniaive, Dumfries

Winning ways

• Sustainability is central

• Integrated small and large renewable projects into a strong commercial farm

• Tenacious pursuit of wind development

• Carbon-negative farmhouse

• Neil Gourlay’s passion for sustainability across all aspects of the family farm encapsulates the true spirit of being a green energy farmer.

He prides himself as being a farmer and custodian of the countryside, and puts energy and environmental sustainability at the heart of the long-term future of the 1,900ha (1,400-acre) beef and sheep farm. He also says renewable energy can help maintain vibrant rural communities, particularly in remote areas.

Over the past decade, he has cut the carbon footprint of the farm business in a variety of ways, all of which embrace his “four Rs” philosophy of “reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover”.

Two micro-hydropower systems have been installed in the past three years to generate electricity for the farm and to export to the grid. The 12kW system, fed by a hill tributary at the home farm, cost about £70,000 to install, but should pay for itself within 18 months. The other 11kW system makes use of an old seven-acre Victorian lake, and should have an equally attractive payback. Neil, together with the farm’s five full-time staff, has done much of the work, making full use of the available resources, equipment and materials.

It’s the simplicity of many of these schemes that he thinks appeals to farmers and is keen to show what he is doing – a number of groups have already visited the farm, along with visitors to the B&B run by Neil’s wife, Mary.

The “thirsty” oil boiler in the farmhouse has been partially converted to run on electricity from the hydro scheme, cutting the annual oil bill from £5,000 to £2,000. A Polaris electric buggy has been purchased and all of the farm’s quads have been converted to run on LPG. The three main tractors are all Valtra EcoPower machines, with chipped engines to improve fuel economy.

In a further move to reduce his carbon footprint, Neil is fulfilling a lifetime ambition by building a “carbon-negative” farmhouse. Some £700,000 is being invested in the eco-house, which he intends to rent out. It will feature ground-source heating, solar thermal water heating, a biomass boiler and rainwater harvesting. Wool from the farm’s sheep enterprise is being used as insulation.

Planning has been obtained for a small wind turbine to provide power for the house, but he hopes to upgrade this to a larger 330kW turbine, which could supply 90% of the local village’s requirements.

In a further project, Neil has finally, after eight years of planning and public enquiries, been granted permission for a 23-turbine wind farm. Six of the 3MW turbines will be on his land at Monybuie. While he acknowledges the concerns some people have, he firmly believes the struggle will be worthwhile, for the business and the community.

“Statistically, we’re in one of the windiest places in the country. The green revolution is going to keep people in rural communities and the great thing about wind or hydro is that it can be used on marginal hill land like this and not interfere with food production.”

Farm facts

• 1,900ha, mainly grass

• 3,200 ewes and 500 suckler cows

• Two hydro-power schemes

• New eco-farmhouse

M&S logo 2011

Sponsor’s View

“All the finalists have shown renewable energy can improve the environmental and economic sustainability of rural businesses. We’re proud to support this award and encourage farmers to explore green energy initiatives”

Steve McClean, Agriculture Manager, M&S


2011 Farmers Weekly Awards

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