case study

Dairy farmer benefits from East Lothian wind turbine

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East Lothian farmer, Gordon Hastie, runs a dairy business on the hills north of Haddington.  The farm uses an estimated 120,000 units (kWh) of electricity annually.  The site, at a height of 140 metres, has an estimated average wind speed of 7.5m/s at 25 metres above ground level.  Gordon was one of the first farmers in the UK to erect a 50-100 kW Endurance wind turbine at a height of 34 metres to blade tip.  In December he also completed a 50 kW solar PV array on his barn roof.

GEN’s John Maslen sat round the kitchen table with Gordon and members of his family (all of whom have been involved at various times) to talk through the project and any tips they could pass on to others thinking along similar lines.

What was the main motivation behind doing a wind project?

There’s no doubting the wind resource we have so I’ve always considered how we could utilise it.  The main drivers were the need to offset costs of power for our dairy business together with a wish to ‘go green’ - my wife is an ecologist so we’re well aware of the sense in adopting a more sustainable approach to meet our energy demands.

Did you do much research before you progressed your ideas?

Yes, I spent a considerable amount of time on the Internet looking at anything and everything to do with turbines and wind projects.  It’s not easy though to find decent, trustworthy information.  Many of the sites are trying to sell you something so you have to be well aware their advice may not be impartial.

Before the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) was introduced we looked at the ROCs system but we couldn’t make the figures work.  So, as soon as FiT came in we re-ran the sums – which looked very attractive.

Endurance turbine East Lothian

What solutions did you look at?

Initially we were interested in a solution based on three Proven turbines.  At that time the Proven turbines were one of the few options in the smaller scale wind market.  Luckily we decided not to go down that route.  I also looked at the WES turbines which had a solid track record but the technology looked a bit old.  As was the case then and still is now, there is often a crucial choice that farmers have to make between a solution based on older technology that is well proven and a much newer solution that appears to offer better performance but doesn’t have much of a track record.  It’s a tough choice – ideally you want both these things!  It’s far from easy for farmers that tend to know a lot about models of tractors but not much about models of wind turbines.  You can easily find yourself believing what the salesmen tell you which is definitely risky.

Why did you opt for the Endurance E-3120 turbine?

Through my research it appeared that Endurance E-3120 had a unique combination of up-to-date technology, strong performance and a relatively re-assuring operational track record across many installations, albeit largely in North America at the time.  We were well aware only 2 or 3 had been installed in the UK at that point.  We were looking for a solution around the 50 kW capacity mark because we estimated this would offset the majority of our own energy consumption – 90% of which is used for the dairy.  We had a 3 phase grid connection so this wasn’t a limitation.

I also liked the fact that most of the major components like the gearbox (manufactured by Siemens) and generator (manufactured by ABB) used in the Endurance were available ‘off-the-shelf’ from major corporations – so if worst came to the worst and Endurance went out of business in the next 20 years, it should be possible to maintain these machines and source spare parts.

The E-3120 also has a comparatively strong 5 year servicing and parts warranty making the first 5 years relatively risk free.

How did you put together the financial case for doing the project?

Based on my research I put together a set of figures that gave us a budget including up-front costs and on-going annual overheads.  Although I started to look at revenue based on our average wind speed (7.5m/s at 25 metres according to NOABL wind data) I then re-calculated these figures to make them more conservative using a wind speed of 5m/s.  I deliberately based the case on a 10 year 100% bank loan again to make sure we were not being overly optimistic about payback times.  Even at 5m/s the figures were acceptable.

Who did you contact regarding installation of an Endurance turbine?

The only resellers of the Endurance turbine at that time with a base in Scotland were The Green Company - they had a Glasgow office.  So we contacted them.  They were very responsive and offered us a quote.  This was in the right ballpark compared with others costs we’d been given and within the budget I’d put together.

How would you describe the role of your installers in the project?

They pretty much took the lead on almost everything with the exception of advice on exporting our power – a gap I understand they have now filled.  They did all the planning application work and their engineers came on-site and coordinated the installation process.  In terms of the financial side, I did most of that including producing the budget, estimating revenues and liaising with the bank to finance it.

East Lothian Endurance wind turbine

Did you have any issues at the planning stage?

I think we were relatively fortunate given our project timing.  I believe it may have got trickier since our application to get wind projects through planning.  Our turbine was carefully sited to minimise visual impact on the landscape – we could have located it across in the next field where the wind resource would have been even better but felt this could have detrimental consequences on landscape.  Our planning application sailed through in 6 weeks with only one objection from someone outwith the local area.  None of my neighbours had a problem – indeed they were far more interested to understand what we’d done and how they might be able to do something similar.

How did the installation go?

Again it was pretty painless.  The concrete foundations were laid and these were then left for a period of weeks for the concrete to set before the installation.  The turbine arrived with staff from our installer there to make sure there was no damage to it.  It was erected and connected to our 3 phase connection over a period of 2 weeks.  Our installer made sure the machine was operating effectively before they departed on 22nd June 2010.  Our role in this process was pretty ‘hands off’.  In fact we even went away on holiday for a week at one point and left them to it.

How are you using the energy you generate from your turbine?

Currently we only use about 10% of the energy we produce due to the location of the turbine and its grid connection.  The rest we export to the grid.

What is the turbine actually generating since it went live in June 2010?

We are close to hitting 100,000 kWh since it was installed 6.5 months ago – a significant proportion of this was in the last 4 months when it’s been particularly windy.  We hope to be generating in excess of 150,000 kWh annually although we were considerably more conservative in our estimates for securing bank finance.

What sort of revenue does this equate to?

If you ignore paying off the bank loan and the interest on this then the income on this output equates to about £45,000 annually.  As a business this income is taxable.

We’d hope to pay back the bank loan within about 7-8 years.

Can you say any more about approximate costs for the project?

All in, including costs for purchase of the turbine, planning and installation services, grid connection and a new access track were around £250,000.

I had a number of discussions with my bank manager at RBS.  Based on past experience, I opted for a conservative approach to pay off the loan over a 10 year period hopefully ensuring we always stay cash positive.  Getting the 100% loan was the thing that took the most time.  The bank wanted to do some of their own due diligence but finally it came through.  They also wanted security over this loan.  I believe it may be easier to get bank finance now as they are more used to such requests.

In terms of ongoing costs, the warranty covers everything for the first 5 years.  The turbine is insurable for loss of revenue and the insurance premium for this is around £1,000 each year.  From year 6 the costs for turbine service and maintenance are around £1,200 each year.

Have you received any payments yet?

We have yet to receive a penny from OfGem through the FiT scheme.  The project has yet to be fully registered although we filled out all the forms some time ago.  The delays, we believe, have been caused by our decision to ‘opt out’ of the standard FiT export service (based on 3.1p per unit exported) to use a separate energy buyer, SmartestEnergy.  They offered us around 5p/unit for everything we export through their Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).  However, we didn’t realise we would need half-hourly metering to support this export solution (which we then had to put in) and this has caused lots of issues.  We suspect that by ‘opting out’ we have introduced significant delays to our FiT registration application being processed by OfGem.

We have received payment from SmartestEnergy for the electricity we’ve exported to the grid.  However these payments (based on 5p/unit) are obviously significantly less than the FiT payments at 25.3p/unit.  The potential delay between getting your project registered with OfGem (to receive FiT payments) and servicing your debt is something others should watch out for.

We would recommend to others that for projects of this scale a better approach might be to ‘opt in’ for at least the first year despite the income difference.  Then, at the end of your 12 months, you can opt out and go with an independent power buyer if they can offer you a better deal – which in many cases they can.

What operational issues have you faced?

Like most projects of this nature there were a few teething problems in the first few months which were sorted out promptly through our installers – there was an issue with grid capacity on our local line that caused the turbine to switch off that ScottishPower resolved.

What about noise related issues?

Our house is about 200 metres away from the turbine.  The only time you hear it at the house is with an occasional ‘quiet wind’ from the direction of the turbine - you can hear a light humming noise and light ‘swish’.  The rest of time you'd never even know it was there if you shut your eyes.  None of my neighbours (at 400 metres or more away) have said anything about noise.  One of the great things about this turbine is how quiet it is – even at 200 metres.

You graze race horses in the same field as the turbine – any issues?

No, we’re not aware of any issues – the race horses we have in that field appear to ignore the turbine completely.

Endurance wind turbine with horses grazing

Can you monitor the turbine and its performance from your house?

Yes, we can monitor it securely from our computer.  It is also being monitored by Endurance 24/7 from their HQ in Canada.

Would you recommend your wind solution to others?

Well, it is still early days and, like everyone else, we’re not going to be in a position to really answer this question for another 5 years or so.  But, 7 months in, it’s been as good as we could have expected particularly over the last 4 months with the wind we’ve had!  It’s certainly re-assuring to be able to look out of the kitchen window and see the blades turning!

Solar PV on barn roof East Lothian

Finally, you’ve recently completed a 50 kW solar PV project – can you say any more about that?

The most energy intensive activity on the farm is at our milking shed at the other end of the farm.  So we wanted a renewable energy solution that could be linked in to the electricity meter in the shed.  Early in December we installed a 50 kW array of PV panels on the barn roof.  The Green Company carried out this work and we just managed to beat the FiT deadline in mid-December [see our latest blog post for more on the new deadlines].  It’s too early to say how this is performing but, even at this time of the year, it’s certainly a positive contribution.

GEN would like to thank Gordon and his family for their time and openness.

If you would like to read another case study of the Endurance E-3120 then we'd recommend the one published by Silverford Renewables who provide Endurance installation services in Northern Ireland - RedHouse Holsteins, the first dairy farm in Northern Ireland to install an Endurance E-3120.

There is more information on GEN in our Farmers and Landowners Group.

There is more information specifically on wind and wind turbines in our Small Wind Group and Medium Wind Group

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Norfolk pig farmer benefits from small wind turbine

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Norfolk farmer John Blackburne runs a small 13 acre pig farm in North Pickenham.  It is situated next to an old Second World War airfield on which there is 8 large wind turbines. “It was fairly clear it was a decent site for wind.  The average wind at 10 metres is 4.8 m/s so at 18 metres the turbine should have an average of about 5.1 m/s , although with clear views to the south west, north and north east we hope the average wind may be slightly better than has been suggested.”

"The main reasons for considering a wind project were to generate revenue, reduce energy costs and diversify the farm business.  We ruled out a larger turbine on the basis of potential impact to my house and that of my neighbours as well as the issues involved in funding a much bigger project.  We did about a year of research around the best small turbine for our situation – it was fairly clear that the Gaia 11kW turbine would out perform its competition and give the best return per £1000 of investment, especially on a relatively low wind site.  We had 3 phase electricity supply which is one of the requirements of the Gaia turbine.”

John Blackburne's Gaia Wind Turbine

To give an idea on the up-front investment needed, the turbine was approximaterly £50,000 and the ground works and planning approximately £5,000. so a total of £55,000 all ready to run.  I have budgeted for an 8 year payback period.  I had a 110 yard run of 25ml four core cable plus an extra earth wire, which is included in the above cost but any extra distance would of course both increase the length needed and, possibly, the size of cable to avoid a voltage drop.  Our turbine was brought from Green Generation  (www.green-generation.co.uk), an agent of Gaia Wind, and they arranged the planning work, the base foundations, and the installation.  This all went very smoothly.  The whole process was fairly quick – once planning was approved in April 2011, the turbine was up and running 2 months later.

“The farm and house use about 15,000 kWh per year and the turbine is predicted to produce about 24,000 kWh  per year.  I have made every effort to spread the electricity usage evenly between all three phases to maximise the electricity we use when the turbine is producing. We have also changed our Aga which was oil fired to electric (using the Newton Electric conversion unit).  The Aga is running well - better than when it was oil fired!”

In terms of on-going costs, my annual bill is around £600 for a service although, once the warranty is up, you might even be able to do it yourself if you don’t mind heights!  I insured my turbine for only a part year until my annual farm insurance is due so I'm not certain of the fee for annual insurance cover - perhaps about £450.  Insurance covers it for most things but not storm damage.  The warranty is for 5 years and includes parts only so labour will cost.  I have currently decided to ‘opt in’ to the 50:50 deal on exporting my excess electricity.  We have a pump, an electric Aga and an electric water heater so we expect to use at least 50% of the power we produce.

"You shouldn't under-estimate how much satisfaction you get knowing that a significant amount of our power is from the wind."

I am happy for people to contact me for further information.  Either add comments or questions below or contact me directly (mobile  07747620130).

 

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Lincolnshire vegetable supplier installs anaerobic digester

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Project :  Staples Vegetables Ltd
Location:   Boston, Lincolnshire
Technology: Anaerobic Digestion

Capacity : 1.4MW

Commissioned: 2011

STAPLES Vegetables supplies many of the UK’s leading retailers with high quality brassicas, sprouts, cauliflowers and cabbages from its extensive farming operations.

Following an initial suggestion from property consultants JH Walter, Staples invested in an innovative anaerobic digestion plant which uses out-of-specification vegetables to reduce energy costs and improve the sustainability of its operations.

The plant became the first of the anaerobic digestion projects funded through the Government’s Environmental Transformation Fund to be officially opened in 2011.

The Boston-based grower is now able to produce 11 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year from the £6.5m facility which is capable of processing 40,000 tonnes of vegetables.

As well as generating electricity which is used on site, the process generates heat used for offices on the site and to chill processing areas via heat absorption coolers. 

The processed vegetable matter also replaces fertiliser currently used on the land.

Excess power is sold into the grid under a Power Purchase Agreement with SmartestEnergy.

Staples Vegetables’ director Vernon Read said: "Energy is a major cost for our business and this new facility gives us control over future electricity prices along with security of supply. It also increases the sustainability of our farming and processing operations."

Sean Cameron, of consultants General Energy Management of Boston, worked with the company to find the best deal for the excess electricity generated by the plant.  “I was already aware of SmartestEnergy and their focus on independent generators and felt they were able to offer a more innovative package than some of the big players in the market.

Although securing the best price for the client was obviously a critical factor, the flexibility provided by SmartestEnergy when it came to areas such as the terms and conditions of the contract was also very important.”

Staples Vegetables is already looking to build on the experience gained during the project by establishing a second AD plant at another of its sites.

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Swapping oil for biomass to heat a Victorian Orkney house

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Biomass boiler and pellet storeOur house has a fairly unique location situated on the pier in Stromness, Orkney.  Exposure is an issue given it’s surrounded by sea on two sides. The building is a listed, three storey, detached, Victorian, stone house located in a Conservation Area.  The house has 4 bedrooms and many rooms have three outside walls.  There is a large wooden boatshed built onto the east gable.  Recent improvements include loft insulation and double glazing on the first two floors.  Until recently an oil-fired Rayburn provided cooking, heating and hot water.  We also have a coal fire most evenings and electric heating on the third floor of the house.

Although the Rayburn was only installed in 1996 it has proved unreliable and was recently given an approximate efficiency rating of 30-35% (compared with over 90% for modern biomass boilers and gas condensing boilers).  Maintenance costs were high and we were using 4,000 litres each year of increasingly expensive oil.  The house rarely reached a comfortable temperature!

We started to consider alternative forms of heating two years ago but, at that time, we didn’t find it easy to review our options.  We did not have a great deal of confidence in the new technology, the choices were confusing and waiting for tradespeople to assess the best option was a lengthy process.  In the end the only two options that seemed viable were a biomass boiler based on wood pellets or a newer condensing oil boiler.  We were keen to utilise a renewable source of energy but we had reservations about handling, storing and supplying the pellets.

In the summer of 2010 we heard about a generous government grant available to over 75 year olds to install condensing oil boilers.  We talked to the Energy Saving Trust who suggested we should be eligible.  Estimates still had to be obtained from Scottish Gas but we were given a predicted installation date of March 2011.  Fortunately the process was delayed as by early 2011 we were having increasing doubts in being reliant on oil.  Prices for a tank of oil (1,000 litres) had increased to £740 resulting in an annual oil bill in excess of £3,000.  We also became aware of a new scheme called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to encourage people to move over to biomass boilers.  We also found out more about bulk hoppers which could alleviate our concerns about loading the pellets.

Pellet store of bagsAt this time we read an article in the local paper about a group of renewable energy students setting up a renewables business.  As part of this, were offering free feasibility studies.  They responded to our request for advice immediately, did heat calculations, and supplied information on different boiler options, amount of space needed (including for storage of pellets), potential costs etc.  They also arranged for us to see a biomass boiler in operation.  This could all be passed on to potential suppliers who were registered under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).

We requested quotations from a local supplier and also from Green Flame Technology, a company based in Kincraig, Invernessshire.  Green Flame had been highly recommended by one of their customers in Orkney. We only received a response from Green Flame but their quote was favourable and we were re-assured by the fact they were training a local plumber, Davy Prentice of PW Plumbing, to do installations and servicing.

Flue for boilerQuite a lot of preparation work was required before the biomass boiler could be installed.    We checked whether there are local pellet suppliers – there are now two in Orkney.  We arranged for the Rayburn to be removed together while the oil tank was taken for scrap.  A raised platform was built within the boatshed to site the boiler and pellet store to make sure both were kept as dry as possible.  The existing chimney flue was adjacent to this platform and we opened this up from the ‘boatshed side’ to vent the boiler.  [Nb. It is important to have a vertical flue to vent a biomass boiler or stove and also sufficient air ventilation for the boiler itself.]   

Richard da Silva from Green Flame reminded us that we should apply for the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme before work commenced.  This was a straight-forward online procedure and, as a result, we received a voucher for £950.  We were also eligible for a grant of £400 from the Scottish government under the Boiler Scrappage Scheme (only operating now in Scotland) – the Energy Saving Trust helped us to get this and emphasized that the application should be made and approved before the old boiler was removed.  We also ordered 1 ton of pellets through our local supplier from Arbuthnott Wood Pellets at a cost of £250 + 5% VAT.  They arrived in 15 Kg bags.  The boiler delivery was organised by Green Flame and arrived from Italy 2 days before the installation was due.

Richard da Silva and Philip McMahon of Green Flame, together with Davy Prentice, took a day and a half to do the installation – their professionalism was impressive and gave us a real boost of confidence that we had chosen the right company. 

Boiler controlsIt is now day 10 since the installation and the boiler is running smoothly and quietly.  Davy the plumber has called in and assisted us with the first cleaning of the ash which is a regular fortnightly process but quite straight-forward.  We have still to learn the intricacies of programming it but we’ll get there. 

We have already noticed a significant difference in the overall temperature of the house and haven’t yet had a coal fire which is unusual for us at this time of year.  During the first week we used 100 Kg of pellets which heated both the house and our hot water.  It is anticipated we will use around 6 tons of pellets a year (£1560).  If you factor in the running costs of our new electric cooker that’s still likely to be a saving of around £1200 annually compared with the Rayburn.  And we’re hopeful we might also qualify for the RHI when it is announced in October 2012 – this could further reduce the payback period to around 2 years.

To sum things up so far, the advantages of a biomass heating solution from our perspective are: they are economical, efficient, quiet, smell-free, and they utilise a renewable fuel source that frees you from a dependency on increasingly expensive oil.  The disadvantages are that installing them can be more labour intensive, filling and cleaning are regular (albeit perfectly manageable) chores, and they take up more space, especially for storage of the pellets.

Biomass boiler in situCost breakdown

Here are our costs broken down:

MCZ 24 kW compact utility boiler:  £3,650

Delivery charge:  £250

Commissioning service:  £260

Plumbing work:  £1,309

Renewable Heat Premium Payment: (£950)

Boiler Scrappage Scheme Payment:  (£400)

Total cost:  £4,319

There were other costs for the removal of the Rayburn and drainage of oil tank but this was more than covered by the sale of the surplus oil.  The cost of removal of the oil tank was covered by its scrappage value.  Two extra radiators had to be purchased for the kitchen and we bought a new electric cooker.

Boiler timer clock on wall