*According to a recent survey carried out by the National Farmers Union, this year’s extreme weather and soaring costs have seriously hit farmers’ confidence to invest in their businesses in the short term. Some 42 per cent of farmers told the NFU that their farm businesses were in for a tougher … up from 30 per cent in 2011.
However, in spite of the gloom and uncertainty, increasing numbers of farmers have been discovering a way to reap a weatherproof, guaranteed income over a 25 year period – with zero set up costs to themselves. They have achieved this by renting out land or roof space to the UK’s leading solar energy generator, Lightsource Renewable Energy.
This is how it works. The farmer or landowner enters into a fixed-term 25 year lease with Lightsource, at which point rental payments begin and are then paid quarterly in advance. Rent is priced per acre and is increased annually in line with inflation. There is no risk of any default on rental payments as Lightsource projects are backed by a long term government sponsored incentive schemes, making the company and payments guaranteed and secure.
The farmer may also opt to enter into a Power Purchase Agreement under which Lightsource will supply them with locally generated green energy – which is usually significantly cheaper than regular electricity. In this way there are significant savings to be made, as well as generating a guaranteed rental income. Aside from these all important financial benefits, by enabling Lightsource to generate renewable energy on their land, farmers will be helping to reduce the nation’s dependence on the fossil fuels which contribute to climate change.
Conor McGuigan, Business Development Director for Lightsource comments, “If you are a farmer with land available for rent, it is best to come straight to us because we prefer to cut out any ‘third parties’ or ‘middlemen’ who will sometimes have their own agenda. We like to deal directly with the person who is potentially going to be our landlord for the next 25 years. It’s very important that we get to meet face to face and build a strong, comfortable relationship because of the length of the commitment and contract we would be entering into. The same applies to the relationship we foster with the local community around the site – they are going to be our neighbours for a long time.”
Although Conor is now in business development, his background is in planning and he was formerly Senior Planner at Belfast City Council. This has given him the ability to see both sides of any situation. Accordingly, Lightsource will hold public consultations and try to take onboard any issues raised before proceeding to the planning application stage. Conor continues, “We do listen and if, for example, local residents feel more screening is required, we will address that. This is the reason why the vast majority of our planning applications are successful.”
“”It is important to be honest and open, which is another reason why we prefer to speak directly to the landowners themselves. Obviously some sites are much more suitable than others and we will only take on something that we feel is going to work for both parties. If the farmer can spare that land, he is in a win-win situation because not only will he be able to continue doing what he does best – farming the land, he will also have the benefit of a reliable long-term revenue stream to back him up. Some farmers even see this as part of their future retirement plan.”
Any farmer or landowner with a site of at least 6 acres wishing to discuss its suitability as a solar farm should contact 0333 200 0755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Free educational resources about solar energy and climate change can also be found at www.lightsource-re.co.uk
*Information obtained from the National Farmers Union Website http://www.nfuonline.com/