John Bowler’s Eggs is applying its knowledge of planning and environmental law to renewable energy, as Scott Casey discovered at a recent company open day.
Standing on a blustery ranging area at John Bowler’s showpiece Betty’s Farm during a recent open day, their barely three-month old, 18m-high wind turbine doesn’t manage to raise a single decibel above the sound of the nearby A38.
“This one doesn’t make any noise compared with others because it’s got an induction generator,” explains Andrew Dobson, build project supervisor at Bowler Energy. “This governs the speed ratio, so all we end up hearing are the cars on the motorway.”
We then follow a path of still-fresh earth, left from the installation of electrical cabling from the tower to the control shed, about 100m away. This houses the generation meter and export meter that record electrical output and send figures to a website that can be accessed 24 hours a day.
“We did all the work on this ourselves,” says Mr Dobson. “We dug the trenches, laid the concrete for the base, did all the electrics, all the calculations, everything. It’s quite astonishing that we could do it all, rather than using contractors.”
More well-known for his egg business, John Bowler quietly launched Bowler Energy a little over a year ago, selling solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays and wind turbines to farmers, as the government’s new FiTs (FiTs) gave a long-awaited boost to renewable energy.
The transition to working in renewable energy has been smooth, with the team of planners, lawyers and financial advisors switching from working on designs and planning applications for free-range units to the installation and construction of solar PV arrays and wind turbines.
So far, poultry farmer preference has been for wind power, in part due to the shorter payback times. For example, the average payback times for a 11kW system with wind speeds of an average 5m/second and 6m/second are put at 5.6 and 4.2 years respectively. A 50kW system with average wind speeds of 5m/second, 6m/second and 7m/second are calculated at 7, 4.8 and 3.7 years respectively.
These figures compare with a payback time of 9, 8.1 and 10.9 years for solar photovoliatic installations ranging in size from 9.87kW and 49.90kW to 99.64kW, with initial outlays of £32,500 for 42 panels, £130,000 for 214 panels and £240,000 for 425 panels.
The 11kW wind turbine installed at Badger Farm, which is typically able to power a single poultry shed and farmhouse, costs £63,000 fully installed and generates a total income over 20 years of £396,000. A taller 50kW turbine that would be able to power two sheds and a farmhouse, costs £265,000 and has a predicted lifetime income of £1.25m.
Local egg producer David Gosling said he and his wife came on the farm visit because they were interested in renewable energy, but like many farmers, were unsure which path they would go down.
“This is a very long-term thing, I mean, will we still be farming in 10 years time? We might lose the flexibility in being able to retire,” Mr Gosling said.
“The other thing I wonder about is this is new technology, costs are coming down all the time, is it the right thing to go into now? In five years time will there be a system that’s five times more efficient perhaps with a slightly different technology? But you need to commit at some stage.”
Technology will certainly move forward in leaps and bounds over the next few years and the FiT will reflect this, as from March 2013 the subsidy for renewable energy will decrease in value for new entrants.
People who install renewable energy generation and subscribe to the FiT scheme before then will have the amount they receive locked in at the current higher rate for the next 25 years.
We take a short drive down the road to Bowler’s other showcase unit, Woodcock Farm, where ground-mounted solar panels stand out like a prop from a science fiction movie.
But not everyone thinks that the solar panels rising out of their ranging area look like a vision from the mind of Arthur C Clarke.
“They’re a bit like marmite really,” says Bowler Energy manager Jonathan Thompstone. “You either love them or hate them. But if you’ve got space for them you can get a better return [than roof-based panels because of optimum pitch and connection] and they are easier to clean.”
“We’ve set these panels very low to keep them out of the way, but they can extend up to 1.2m, to allow sheep or livestock underneath.”
Generation capacity is kept intentionally small, unless a farm specifically needs a larger set-up to maximise the amount reaped from the FiT. A further 100kw is also set to be constructed at Betty’s Farm.
Recent changes in the FiT to de-incentivise large-scale solar will not affect installations generating less than 50kW. It is also important to note that producers can install wind and solar together, and still receive the maximum subsidy rate on both.
Bowler Energy runs farm open days twice a month, with no obligation to purchase a system through them. The next one is on 15 July.