Farmers signing up in big numbers for green energy
Record numbers of farmers have been expressing interest in wind turbines and solar plants, taking advantage of lucrative subsidies and a new Government tax break.
Renewable energy schemes became a much-needed source of alternative income during a year which saw crop yields decimated and a return to 1980s levels of productivity, the National Farmers Union (NFU) said.
Earnings from wind energy generated between £12,000 and £50,000, an analysis by banks NatWest and RBS in conjunction with industry body RenewableUK revealed.
The NFU's Farm Energy Service, which has just celebrated its first anniversary, says it has already helped 1,550 farms in the UK.
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Cornish livestock and potato farmer Richard Thomas, who runs the 900-acre Trevear Farm at Sennen, near Land's End, installed a 35-metre, 80kW Canadian turbine a year ago, which is now powering the dairy with the surplus electricity sold to the National Grid.
Mr Thomas said he had needed to ring the changes after struggling get a return from growing potatoes for years, deciding to invest in a turbine and a potato packing plant
"Our potatoes have now been sold in every Sainsbury store in the country under the Cornish King brand," he said.
"You have to listen to what the market demands and respond accordingly with realism and a plan to take you forward."
Of the enquiries to the Farm Energy Service during the first 12 months, 52% relate to solar and 30% to wind which promises yields up to 25% in blowy areas.
Another boost came in the shape of an increase in the annual investment allowance (AIA) from January, which gives 100% tax relief on investments from £25,000 to £250,000 for the next two years.
Johnnie Andringa, boss of Glasgow-based Gaia-Wind, which has a number of installations in Devon and Cornwall, said the net cost of a £45,000 turbine had reduced to £27,000 for a 40% taxpayer.
And payback time based on the current Feed in Tariff (FiT) drops from 5.3 years to 3.4 years, meaning an outlay previously required for one turbine now pays for two.
Mr Andringa said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for those looking to invest in small wind."
Chartered surveyors Fisher German say 82% of applications for smaller wind turbines, between 5kW and 50kW, are approved, and of the 18% that fail and go to appeal, two thirds are granted.
Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of RenewableUK, said wind power was "helping to preserve rural communities".