Powering ahead with wind turbines

The huge farmer interest in renewable energy was confirmed at Britain’s biggest showcase yesterday, with one banker revealing he had been deluged with inquiries.

James Sutcliffe, a business manager in The Co-operative Bank’s renewable energy team, said power generation had literally taken off among farmers and landowners.

Standholders at the All-Energy event in Aberdeen also said they had seen unprecedented levels of inquiries from farmers planning a variety of renewable power generation projects.

The Co-op Bank is among the main funders of farm-based energy projects, with £200million still available from the £400million it vowed to inject into renewables. It can lend between £500,000-£20million to projects over 15 years.

It has already funded four wind turbine projects at Balnamoon, near Keith; on Benbecula; at St John’s Wells at Fyvie and at Cairnhill at Cuminestown, both near Turriff; and at Bruxiehill at Peterhead.

Mr Sutcliffe expects another 15 turbine deals to be agreed this year. It is also talking to a further potential 40 projects across Britain, several of which are in Aberdeenshire.

It is not just farm-based wind energy the bank is backing. It too is looking to put cash into 15 anaerobic digestion plants that are at various stages of development and which could use farm and food waste to generate heat, power and biogas. It is also involved in hydro power, with 20 projects being contemplated.

Mr Sutcliffe said various funding types were available, including project finance that was used by Elaine Booth to put up a 0.8megawatt turbine at Bruxiehill. He saw huge potential for on-farm renewable energy, saying it was a great diversification that offered good returns and which could be developed through entirely different banking techniques that farmers were normally involved in.

Mr Sutcliffe added: “We have had a really busy couple of days. We’ve already done projects up here and obviously farmers talk to each other which lies behind the interest. The problem is that we’ve been so busy; it’s a good problem to have, though. We’ve had so many people wanting to talk to us.”

Ms Booth said the project funding from the Co-op allowed farmers to become actively involved in renewable energy themselves rather than in letting others progress them.

The potential for farmer-power in the north-east is huge, with 470 megawatts of power generation through wind turbines being contemplated. There is already 180 megawatts of wind power in place, and a similar amount of generation under construction.

The Scottish Government funds small-scale projects up to 50 kilowatts and offers a higher level of support for initiatives between that and 250 kilowatts.

But there were complaints it was not enough and too difficult to access.

Keith Arbuthnott, of wood pellet maker Stovies, said biomass was a viable alternative to oil and gas for homes, but called for grants to increase from £4,000 to £6,000 for wood-based boilers.

He too unveiled plans to invest £100,000 into a new wood-burning boiler to dry the shavings he makes into pellets at his estate at Arbuthnott, near Inverbervie.

NHS Grampian estates manager Gary Mortimer used All-Energy to reveal its plan for a wood biomass wood boiler within a new combined heat and power plant at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary that will cost in excess of £10million and be operational in 2011.

The plant will generate 90% of the electricity and all the steam and hot water needed for the ARI site and help divert £2.3mllion previously spent on energy into patient care.