2nd June 2011

Caithness monitor farmer considers wind energy development


Crofters and farmers are facing a race against time if they are to benefit from the current level of support on offer to develop renewable energy schemes.

The last couple of years have witnessed a major surge in small-scale wind and solar panel ventures on agricultural land, attendees heard at this week’s meeting at Westfield, near Thurso, the Caithness monitor farm.

Caithness livestock producers attending the latest monitor farm meeting were advised to get their skates on if they are serious about going ahead.

Johnny Mackenzie, who runs Westfield Farm, near Thurso - one of a national programme of monitor farms which is supported by Quality Meat Scotland, the Scottish Government and local businesses - is among those looking into the potential of a wind energy development.

A desk-top study, carried out as part of the monitor farm programme, has found the holding would be a viable location for a wind energy scheme.

Outline costings have found a single 12 kilowatt turbine would have a four to five year payback and earn £285,000 in profit over its 20 year lifetime for a capital outlay of £55,000.

The study was carried out by Andy Miller, operations manager of Icon Energy Scotland, who was guest speaker at the latest meeting. Like its competitors, his Kinross-based firm has enjoyed brisk business from farmers diversifying into wind energy.

Icon has been involved in 85 schemes the length of Scotland and the north of England, with a further 40 in the planning process. Mr Miller, a geologist and engineer, said the growth in micro-turbine and solar energy developments has been driven by Government sweeteners.

This comes primarily from the Feed in Tariff (FiT) scheme, which pays people who generate their own ‘green’ electricity. For schemes up to 15kw, the current index-linked rate is 28p per kilowatt hour of energy produced. This drops to 25.3p for schemes between 15 and 100kw.

Solar power schemes can get 37.8p per kwh of electricity generated. “This is basically an incentive offered by the Government for you to go green,” said Mr Miller.

At the same time, the farms involved would be unaffected by the expected threefold rise in electricity prices over the next 20 years. The sting for those still thinking about going ahead with a development is that the payment rate is being reduced from April next year. Mr Miller said the reduction has not yet been announced but is expected to be about 6%.

At the same time, the Communities and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) is winding up.  Mr Miller said anyone serious about a scheme needs to get the wheels in motion so they can qualify for the current level of support on offer.

“Anyone going ahead with a farm-based turbine scheme would, I’d say, have to be in the planning process by October if they are going to qualify for the current rate of FiTs,” he said.

Mr Miller said the scheme is much less relevant for large, commercial wind farm developers, whose income is largely derived from the large amount of power they produce. However, he said farmers should not under-estimate the work they may need to do in terms of bird, bat, archaeological and noise surveys to accompany their planning application.

He recommends 12-16 weeks be set aside for planning and a further 13 weeks to finalise the grid connection, followed by eight weeks for the ground work and erection of the turbines.

The holding could, he said, run a viable wind farm scheme or solar energy venture. The latter would have a seven-eight year payback on a £130,000 investment.

Mr Mackenzie is currently sizing up his options in terms of embarking on a green energy venture.  However, he was keen to stress that this was just an initial desk based study into the possibilities open to him.

Pic caption: Monitor farmer Johnnie Mackenzie (left) pictured with Andy Miller, operations manager of Icon Energy Scotland.



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