Ten steps to planning a farm-scale ad plant

The government’s planned increase to the subsidy for anaerobic digestion could generate renewed interest in the technology. Planning specialists Land Use Consultants set out 10 steps for aspiring farm-scale AD producers to follow

1. Quantify your feedstock

There are strong economies of scale in AD plants – sourcing additional slurry from a number of neighbouring farms may pay dividends. Plants require year-round supply, so ensure you have adequate storage.

2. Select your contractor(s)

The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association can provide contact details of its member companies (www.adbiogas.co.uk). Depending on the services they provide, you may need additional support from specialist planning, environmental and farm business consultants.

3. Assess capital costs and income

Build costs of a medium-sized, farm-scale AD plant (using the slurry from 250 dairy cows) are high at around £450,000, but returns are expected to improve following the government’s review of Feed In Tariffs (for electricity) and the launch of the Renewable Heat Incentive (for biogas) – both due this summer. The government has indicated it expects these to yield annual returns on investment of 8-12%.

4. Confirm whether planning permission is required

Planning consent is likely to be required for AD plants under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Some farm-scale plants may not need full planning permission, although this should be confirmed for each site. It is always a good idea to discuss your proposals with the local planning authority.

5. Keep neighbours and the local community informed

Rumour and misinformation will give you unnecessary headaches. The best way to minimise concern is to consult local people at an early stage. A well-worded letter to neighbours and the parish council should save you trouble later on.

6. Prepare a site plan

It is important to define the project to inform initial discussions with the local planning authority. Good design is essential to appease concerns and minimise negative impacts. Careful siting and use of ventilation systems, bio-filters and noise attenuation can minimise potential air pollution, noise and odour problems. A photomontage (photographic mock-up) can help allay fears about the visual impact of the project.

7. Pre-application discussions

Once you have something on paper (for instance, outline drawings showing footprint and design of the plant), offer planners and the parish council a site visit before you submit the formal planning application. This provides an opportunity for them to highlight any issues that you will need to take into account in your application.

8. Gathering evidence to support a planning application

It is unlikely that a farm-scale AD plant will require an Environmental Impact Assessment unless it is in a sensitive location, such as a national park or near a designated wildlife site. However, other environmental surveys may be required to support your planning application, such as to check for flood risks or the effect on protected species. You may need to contract these from qualified specialists.

9. Register for environmental permits and waste licences

Farm-located plants of less than 0.4MW and handling up to 1,250 cubic metres of slurry are exempt from the Environmental Permitting Regulations, but you will need to register with the Environment Agency. Larger plants, those not on farms, or those importing food waste are likely to require a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence and/ or animal by-products licence.

10. Negotiate conditions

If your planning application is granted, it will have conditions attached. These state how the development will be constructed and implemented. You can negotiate these to ensure they do not overly compromise operation of your AD plant.

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