Devon’s farms could be the key to new community energy revolution

We’re working on a new scheme which could give community energy groups the chance to ‘rent’ farmland and buildings to help them expand Devon’s renewable electricity capacity.

And if successful it could see renewable energy installations totalling 100 kWp developed on low-grade, agricultural land – land which is otherwise unsuitable for grazing or growing crops.

It’s all part of a project funded by Interreg Europe called AgroRES, which includes Devon County Council (DCC). The project is working with EU-partners to increase the use of renewables within the agricultural sector.

The Devon Carbon Plan is set to be released this autumn, and will outline how Devon can become net-zero by 2050 at the very latest. We are a key partner is the carbon plan process, and we have additionally committed to become a net-zero authority by 2030.

A vital part of that is the expansion of renewable energy production in the county – the Climate Change Committee says that renewable energy production has to be quadruped to have any chnace of meeting net zero targets.

And farms could be the key – there is huge potential for farms to be transformed into ‘renewable energy hubs’ and their land and buildings to be used to generate energy from wind, solar, biomass and agricultural waste.

But one of the barriers is the large upfront costs of installing renewable technology infrastructure and the risk that income from energy sales won’t be sufficient. 

One solution that has been proposed is the creation of a new financial instrument called a Synthetic Power Purchase Agreement.

This would allow us to guarantee Community Energy Groups a fixed long-term price for energy generated, allowing them to raise money for renewable energy infrastructure.

The benefit of this model is that there is no upfront cost to us but providing a fixed long-term income for the generator enables them to secure investment through a community share offer. The farmer would receive a payment for the use of their land and we would receive carbon credits for the production of renewable energy that would not have otherwise occurred.

And it wouldn’t impact on a farm’s agricultural production – the infrastructure would be either on land they cant use or techology like solar panels on the roofs of farm buildings.

The project is in its early stages, but if the model proves promising it could potentially be used across Devon’s agricultural sector. The next step is for the proposals to be considered by our elected members and then a business case drawn up. Then an energy storage and solar PV installation test site will be set up on one of our farms.

Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, said:

“This is an example of Devon County Council trying to think outside of the box to help us meet our climate targets. There is substantial untapped potential in the agricultural sector through the use of farmland and buildings. This new model could be the solution – it’s a win for the farmer as they receive payments for the use of their land while not impacting on production, a win for community energy groups who can generate renewable energy for their communities and receive a guaranteed price, and it would help both the council and Devon as a whole achieve its net-zero targets.”

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