Farmer interest in the renewable energy sector has increased dramatically over recent years, with many projects benefitting from government incentive schemes and tax breaks.
But the recession and dramatic public spending cuts announced by Chancellor George Osborne in May has cast some uncertainty over the stability of such renewable energy support and financial viability of new projects.
The Low Carbon Building Programme, which provides grant funding to help pay for technologies such as solar thermal, pellet boilers, geothermal and heat pumps, was an early victim of the cuts after it was immediately closed to new applications to save the £3m left in the funding pot.
Those interested in anaerobic digestion will also be watching closely to see whether the Feed-in Tariff rate for AD plants is increased by the new coalition government after it was widely criticised for being set too low when the tariff was launched in April (Farmers Weekly, 23 April).
“There is provision for an emergency review of Feed-in Tariffs if they’re deemed to be set at the wrong level and we’ll continue to support colleagues at the Renewable Energy Association to press for that,” NFU chief policy adviser Jonathon Scurlock says.
He hopes extra support will be forthcoming for AD, especially as the new government appears – on paper at least – to be “one of the greenest ever”. Also, FiTs, like the new Renewable Heat Incentive due to be launched next April (see panel), are essentially funded by recycling money from energy bills and are not reliant on public money, he adds.
Long-term policy support
But perhaps the biggest reasons to be confident in the long-term support for renewable energy are the high level policy drivers already agreed, Dr Scurlock says.
In particular, the UK Climate Change Bill commits the government to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and a 34% cut by 2020. On top of that, the EU Renewable Energy Directive requires governments to show how the contribution of renewable energy will be ramped up across different sectors.
“Both policy drivers have all-party support and there isn’t really any room for budgetary cutbacks if these targets are going to be met.
“Agriculture covers 75% of the natural land area in this country and has abundant natural resources we can harness, so it will play a key part in meeting these targets in the future.”
Farmers are already used to the idea of diversifying their businesses and renewable energy offers the next step in this process, he adds.
Dr Scurlock says there is no one type of renewable energy project that is most suited to farms. “It’s about choosing what’s right for your business. Horticultural units with protected crops in glasshouses need a lot of heat so may consider biomass boilers or combined heat and power plants. Livestock farms producing lots of manure or slurry may consider AD, while others in sunnier parts of Cornwall or the Chichester plains for example, may opt for photovoltaics on south-facing roofs.”
This last option has real potential for those with large areas of building roof space in sunny locations, he says. Farmers can use solar panels on such sites to provide power for the farm or sell to the grid. “If you want to be more hands-off, there is a growing number of companies wanting to rent roof space for solar panels. There are many different financial packages and it’s a question of what works for you.”
Find out more
On-farm energy generation will be the subject of the two-day Recycling & Waste World conference on 22 and 23 June at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire.
The event, organised in association with the Royal Agricultural Society of England, focuses on ways farmers can secure revenue streams from land-based energy projects. Anaerobic digestion, biomass, hydro, wind and solar will all be covered alongside general planning and policy developments.
The standard delegate rate is £299+VAT, but farmers can get in for £125+VAT and Farmers Weekly readers are entitled to a further 10% discount.
Go to www.recyclingwasteworld.co.uk/conferences for more information and booking, or call 01722 717031.
Renewable Heat Incentive
• A fixed payment for renewable heat generated, similar to the Feed-in Tariff for electricity
• Virtually every property in England, Scotland and Wales is eligible – anyone who installs a renewable energy system producing heat after 15 July 2009 can claim the RHI
• Tariffs rates are still to be confirmed, but will vary depending on the size and type of system used
• See www.rhincentive.co.uk