CSE scopes Anglesey farms for renewable energy potential

… and runs into a little legal controversy

30 June 2011

The Energy Island Programme, announced in 2010 by Isle of Anglesey County Council, isn’t short on ambition. Launched by the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, it aims to make the island a nationally significant low-carbon energy producer, demonstrator and service provider in the next 15 years through a range of projects.

One such project focuses on the 100-plus scattered farms and smallholdings which are owned by Anglesey council. Can they become exemplars of a low-carbon approach and at the same time make the holdings more profitable and keep farming families on the land?

To find out, the council engaged CSE to undertake energy auditing and renewable energy feasibility studies of five of the smallholdings. CSE’s Nick Banks and James Mullen travelled to Anglesey in April and spent half a day at each site, discussing energy use with the tenants, surveying the farm-buildings, and assessing the potential for renewable technologies.

This was followed up with further research to develop an individual report for each smallholding outlining the energy efficiency measures that should be undertaken and renewable energy installations that would be financially viable.

“As we anticipated, all the smallholdings are well suited to wind power, due to the relatively flat and open landscape, good wind speeds and little cause for opposition,” said James Mullen. “We calculate that, depending on what kinds of agricultural activities the smallholders are undertaking, a small-scale turbine could supply all or most of their annual energy use. Solar (PV and thermal) is also a good option for each site,” he added.

Anaerobic digestion was recommended for one of the holdings – a pig farm – which has a surplus of potential feedstock and high electricity and heating requirements. And our assessors reckoned that one of the smallholdings stands to save hundreds of pounds a year on heating fuel by insulating the property and replacing its ancient oil-fired Aga and electric storage heaters with a ground source heat pump.

No FITs, no starts

However, a factor to consider is that from 1 July this year feed-in tariff payments (FITs) cannot be claimed for electricity generated by new installations (i.e. commissioned after 1 July) where the installation has received public funding of more than the ‘de minimis’ threshold. “This is entirely reasonable,” said Nick Banks, “because a cash income from a public grant is a double-subsidy which would strike most people as unfair.”

There nevertheless remains considerable confusion over the question of FITs and other farm payments. For clarification from Ofgem and more detail, click here.

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