Renewable energy offers financial lifeline fo

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Renewable energy offers financial lifeline for struggling farmers

February 2013

NFU Farm Energy Service
  • NFU says renewables give hard-pressed farmers vital stream of income, with wind offering highest rate of return
  • Analysis from NatWest, RBS and RenewableUK shows farmers earn £12,000 - £50,000 a year from generating their own wind energy
  • NFU’s Farm Energy Service helps over 1,500 British farms to stay afloat in its first year of operation
As the NFU Farm Energy Service celebrates its first anniversary, record levels of interest are being reported in renewable energy as a source of income among farmers struggling to make ends meet.
 
The Service has so far helped 1,550 farms throughout the UK in the twelve months since it was launched at NFU Conference 2012.
 
In a year that saw crop yields reduced and productivity down to 1980s levels, renewable energy provided some much needed support for British farms. Dr Jonathan Scurlock, NFU chief adviser for renewable energy and climate change, said: “2012 was a difficult year for the farming community, with bad weather hitting incomes hard. Investing in renewable energy provides farmers and growers with additional earnings at a time when farm budgets have become very stretched.”
 
According to lending figures from NatWest and RBS, the bulk of farmers interested in renewable energy are in the Midlands, at 40 per cent, followed by Scotland, the North East and the South West.
 
Enquiries from the Farm Energy Service during the first 12 months show farmers are making the best use of the variety of renewable energy sources available to them. 52 per cent of renewable queries relate to solar technologies, which tend to have more eligible sites than any other technologies.
 
30 per cent of renewable queries relate to wind turbines which, according to specialist surveyors Fisher German, offer farmers a particularly strong rate of return. Yields can reach 25 per cent in areas of high wind. 
 
Meanwhile, analysis from NatWest and RBS and trade association RenewableUK today suggests that most wind farm installations for 2012 were up to 80kW, making farmers between £12,000 and £50,000 a year. Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of RenewableUK, said: “Farmers are experts at harnessing the Earth’s natural resources, so it’s no surprise that they are leading the way on wind energy. The UK has the most powerful wind resource in Europe and this has provided a vital source of income for farmers, helping to preserve rural communities in Britain.”
 
The past year has also shown that two barriers to the uptake of renewable energy – financing and planning – have not been as difficult as was feared when the Service launched.  In a January 2012 survey before the Service was launched, the NFU and NatWest found that 34 per cent of farmers were concerned about the cost and over half were nervous about planning.
 
However, according to Fisher German, the approval rate for wind projects is very strong. 82 per cent of applications for smaller wind turbines (between 5 and 50kW) are approved at local level (Planning Committee or under Officers delegated powers). Of the 18 per cent that do go to appeal, a further two thirds are also granted consent. Medium sized turbines can take 18-24 months to get through planning but, even here, the success rate remains high with 85 per cent of the applications being granted planning permission. 
 
Liberty Stones from Fisher German said: “National Planning Policy currently recognises that small scale renewable projects make a valuable contribution to cutting emissions and promotes the approval of such projects subject to their impacts being acceptable. Provided farmers receive the right support, planning is not the concern that many anticipate.”
 
Scientific tools can also help make financing less of a concern. In July 2012, NatWest and RBS teamed up with the Met Office to provide farm prospects with tailored wind speed data, allowing farmers to assess the profitability of a wind turbine project early on and in great detail.   
 
Altogether, the NFU estimates that, in 2012, one in five NFU members produced clean electricity from the sun and wind.
 
Click here to read more about our renewable energy services.
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