CLA column: Tackling energy price rises with renewables

Tom Beeley, CLA

Tom Beeley, CLA - Credit: Archant

Tom Beeley, Country Land and Business Association renewable energy adviser, on how to fight rising energy prices

The latest round of energy price hikes are set to cause more financial misery for consumers, with the rural population and businesses set to be worse hit due to their reliance on costly heating fuel and expensive electricity tariffs.

The price of domestic gas and electricity has generally increased over the past eight years after around a decade of falling prices, with four of the Big Six group of energy producers and suppliers recently raising prices by an average of 9.1%.

With the cost of heating oil also rocketing, there appears little end to the misery currently being experienced and many are being driven into fuel poverty.

Despite the seemingly gloomy outlook over the short to medium term, rural landowners are well placed to take control of their own situations.

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Energy efficiency and renewable energy offer significant benefits in terms of cost reduction, security, and mitigating risk of future price hikes.

The move to utilising renewable energy can also boost the environmental credentials of a business.Renewable energy doesn’t just come in the form of wind turbines and nor does it need to be large scale. There are opportunities under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for business and landlords, particularly where properties are off the gas grid. Biomass heating currently offers good returns and ground source heat pumps can be effective for those looking at refurbishment.

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Using a biomass boiler to heat multiple domestic properties has huge benefits. CLA Suffolk chairman Graham Downing, from Chediston, has a 35-kilowatt (kW) boiler fuelled by locally sourced woodchip to heat a barn converted for commercial use and his farmhouse. According to Graham, “biomass really ticks all the boxes”. He added that “if you have woodland for biomass that’s a sensible move; a no brainer frankly”.

Bruisyard Hall’s Paul Rous certainly believed this to be the case when he installed a 153kW system in 2011 to heat the 14th century hall, plus the adjacent converted barn used for weddings and corporate events.

With around 150 acres of sustainable woodland at his disposal on the 700-acre estate, Paul, a CLA Suffolk branch member, is able to fire the boiler with his own fuel – which is cut, chipped and stored on site.

The system, which provides a long and consistent supply of heat, is ideal for the underfloor heating used in the energy-efficient barn, and for the needs of the Hall. Paul utilises the RHI, which he says will offer him a better return on investment as energy prices continue to rise.

The success of the system has convinced Paul to look at installing exactly the same system at the family’s Dennington Hall estate, near Woodbridge, to heat the farmhouse and office. He is also considering solar PV to meet ongoing energy requirements.

Reliable, low maintenance and straightforward, solar PV still offers solid returns with incentive reviews bringing stability to the market. A domestic installation will reduce costs and typically pays for itself in approximately eight years, while commercial roofs are also well suited.

Where energy generated can be used onsite, for example in refrigeration, returns can be even higher. Anyone with a southerly facing roof or space for ground mounted panels can consider the technology, which has become more affordable in the last 18 months because installations costs have fallen dramatically.

Farmers now have the chance to set up small, on-site anaerobic digestion (AD) plants following the launch of a government-funded loan scheme.

AD will allow farmers to save money on energy costs and possibly become an additional revenue stream if they export electricity back to the grid.

They will also be entitled to government incentives for producing renewable energy. Further information is available from:

One CLA member using AD on a large scale is Adnams.

The Southwold-based company delivered the first renewable gas made from brewery and local food waste to National Grid from its plant in October 2010.

When fully operational, Adnams Bio Energy will generate up to 4.8million kW hours per year – enough to heat around 235 family homes for a year or run an average family car for fourmillion miles.

In the future, the facility will produce enough renewable gas to power its brewery and fleet of lorries, while still leaving up to 60% of the output for injection into the Grid.

When considering the benefits of renewable energy, it is worth remembering energy is about both supply and demand and farmers, landowners and rural businesses should look to reduce energy demand through efficiency as well.

Basic energy saving such as switching off, draft proofing and insulation will make a difference.

There are opportunities here too with new technologies coming forward and funding for improvements to homes through the Energy Company Obligation and Green Deal becoming available.

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