East Anglia: Turkey giant launches wind energy initiative

East Anglian turkey giant Bernard Matthews is today launching a pioneering community wind power co-operative which, it hopes, will help cut its carbon footprint and support a raft of community initiatives as well as giving local people a stake in the new venture.

Under the plan, the firm is looking to construct 50m-high single wind turbines on land it owns at six sites in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, at a capital cost of �7.5m, which will be owned by the proposed co-operative.

The new project, called the Bernard Matthews Wind Energy Co-operative, is a partnership between the firm and Energy4All, a not-for-profit organisation specialising in developing community based renewable energy schemes.

And crucially it is also open to investment – with residents and company staff offered a priority stake in the venture ahead of other potential investors, and among those able to apply for shares ranging from �250 to �20,000 per person with shareholders receiving a share of any profits generated.

The firm was not able to say how much investors could expect from their outlay, but similar schemes in Europe and the North of England have yielded returns of up to 10pc.

But the first hurdle will be securing planning permission for the developments, to be located at Wendling, Wood Norton, Wreningham and Oulton in Norfolk and Causeway and Pinchbeck in Lincolnshire.

The move is the latest in a series of carbon-cutting initiatives by the firm including a �4m plan to convert waste into biogas at its Holton factory in Suffolk, and plans for two giant wind turbines in Weston Longville.

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But gaining public support will be key and the firm is hoping the co-operative plan, which has been 18 months in development, will be attractive to community groups, residents, and investors alike.

Rob Mears, Bernard Matthews’ UK managing director, said: “As a business model this is something that is fairly commonplace in Europe, but much less so in the UK. We will be the first company to deliver something like this in the eastern region, so hope there will be plenty of demand from local people to invest in the project.”

“The other added bonus, alongside residents owning a stake in the project, is that some of the profits are used to fund new community-based initiatives. Taking into account the environmental, community and personal benefits the project really is a win-win for everyone.

“We are increasingly aware of our sustainability and corporate responsibility goals,” he added. “Our ambition is to be carbon neutral and we are therefore looking at a number of initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and our carbon footprint.”

The move comes as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reported that growing concern about climate change and energy security had sparked the country-wide development of renewable energy facilities.

RICS surveyors in rural areas are also seeing a substantial increase in demand for due diligence reports from banks who are seeking advice on the viability of using a given site to develop wind or solar power.

James Kavanagh, RICS director of land, said: “Interest in the financial benefits of generating renewable energy is growing. Landowners and developers in rural communities can create an income stream by selling the energy from renewable energy installations, like wind turbines, to the National Grid.”