The National Farmers Union (NFU) celebrated the first anniversary of its Farm Energy Service recently as record levels of interest in renewable energy were reported among British farmers. Analysis from two British banks, NatWest and RBS, as well as from sector trade association RenewableUK, revealed that farmers generating their own wind energy can earn between £12,000 and £50,000 per year.
The service was first launched at the NFU Conference in 2012 and over its first year of operation has helped over 1,500 farmers to integrate renewable energy systems into their business. Farmers are increasingly turning to renewable energy as they struggle to make ends meet faced with escalating energy bills and declining crop yields due to extreme weather which forced productivity down to 1980s levels.
“2012 was a difficult year for the farming community, with bad weather hitting incomes hard” said Dr Jonathan Scurlock, NFU chief adviser for renewable energy and climate change. “Investing in renewable energy provides farmers and growers with additional earnings at a time when farm budgets have become very stretched.”
Lending figures from NatWest and RBS show that the bulk of farmers interested in renewables are located in the Midlands, representing around 40 percent of the farming community, followed by farmers in Scotland, the North East and the South West. Some 52 percent of enquiries from farmers concerning renewable energy relate to solar technologies with 30 percent relating to wind energy. According to specialist surveyors Fisher German, wind turbines offer farmers a particularly strong rate of return with yields reaching 25 percent in areas of high wind.
The analysis from NatWest, RBS and RenewableUK also suggest that most wind turbine installations by farmers during 2012 were up to 80kW earning farmers between £12,000 and £50,000 a year.
“Farmers are experts at harnessing the Earth’s natural resources, so it’s no surprise that they are leading the way on wind energy” said Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of RenewableUK. “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.”
However the past year has also shown that two potential barriers to renewable energy uptake – financing and planning – have not been as difficult as was feared when the NFU Farm Energy Service was first launched. According to Fisher German the approval rate for wind projects stands at around 82 percent for smaller wind turbines of between 5 and 50kW with 18 percent going to appeal. Of those, around two thirds are granted consent. Medium sized turbines can take between 18 and 24 months to pass through planning but even here the approval rate remains high at around 85 percent of applications being granted.
Science can also assist the planning process. In July 2012 NatWest and RBS teamed up with the Met Office to provide farmers with tailored wind speed data in order to allow them to assess the potential profitability of a wind turbine project early on and in great detail. The two banks have also committed £50 million to a dedicated Renewable Energy Fund that was launched in July 2011.