Green energy project snarled in red tape

Posted on 10 April 2012

An innovative project based on renewable energy on a Borders farm that has caught the imagination of three major retailers is being stymied by a local planning committee.

Farmer Jim Shanks, of Standhill, Hawick, plans to use a wind turbine not only to cut the electric bills from the family dairy and cheese-making plant but also to power an anaerobic digester (AD).

“Our 220-cow dairy and the plant where we make cheese, which is sold locally, uses a lot of bought-in electricity to heat water, to cool milk operate the vacuum pump and keep our cheese stores cool, he said.” The digester will be fed with slurry from his cows to produce a high-quality fertiliser. This means that once the plant is operational, the farm will no longer need to buy in 80 tonnes of nitrogenous fertiliser every year.

The digester will also produce heat, which will be used not only in the houses on the farm but also to dry up to 1,000 tonnes of woodchip, which can then be compressed into briquettes and sold for fuel.

“I first got the idea for this closed loop business after travelling abroad as a Nuffield scholar looking at how we could reduce our energy bills on the farm.

“The plan is not just to reduce our carbon footprint, but to become carbon negative. The power line supplying the farm will require to be upgraded so that the excess energy created by the turbine and the AD plant can be fed into the grid.

“I have spoken to three of the top supermarkets in this country on this and they all want to be involved and use the project as an example of how we could work in the future.

“It also links in with my three main objectives: economic growth in the countryside; creating employment in rural areas and having a long-term sustainable system of farming.”

Shanks – whose parents Jim and Annie set up the highly-rated Standhill Cheesery, which they have run for five years – said the current farm workforce of five full-time equivalents would easily be doubled when the project was fully operational.

“The problem I have is getting permission for the turbine. The Scottish Government has set its targets for renewable energy and this links in with that ambition.

“However, a small group of people locally think the countryside will be desecrated by a turbine being erected.

“The countryside has always been developed. The danger is that some of those who move into the country now want to lock it down and stop business being done.”