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Farmers and landowners in the South West should think about the opportunities being presented with the growth in renewable energies.

Sonya Bedford, Head of Renewable Energy at Stephens Scown, says as fossil fuels become more expensive and renewable energy gets cheaper, people could earn an extra income off their land, “Maximising land use to prepare for a future without oil is a very sensible thing to do, especially when subsidies are looking more and more uncertain with 2012 looming.”

The main forms of renewable energy are wind power, hydropower, solar energy, biomass, biofuel and geothermal energy.

She adds; “Renewable energy is ideally suited to rural areas and if you’re looking to diversify, mitigate climate change and earn an extra income then renewable energy may be the way forward. With the continuing and growing Government support for renewable energy, this is a development area that farmers and landowners can explore very seriously.”

By the end of 2009, worldwide wind farm capacity had increased by nearly a third during the year and wind power supplied over one percent of global electricity consumption.

Once the renewable infrastructure is built on the land in whichever form is most suitable, the fuel is free forever. Unlike carbon-based fuels, the wind and sun and the earth itself provide fuel that is free, in amounts that are effectively limitless.

Sonya says, “A wind turbine is now a much more common sight than it was and the wind power operators are on the look out for more and more land that is suitable. Landowners have an opportunity to earn additional income for each turbine they have on their land. Wind farms provide landowners with a regular income, generally for no additional labour or expense, usually for a period of 25 years.

The arrival of feed-in tariffs means there may now be profit to be made by generating electricity through photo-voltaic (PV) panels on barns/houses or commercial building roofs – the same can be said for the generation of electricity through wind turbines.

She adds, “More farmers and landowners are choosing to install their own apparatus, rather than relying on the companies to approach them for installation. The effects of increased generation of electricity will also mean that more farms and estates will be able to be completely self reliant when it comes to their energy needs.”

Biomass, another form of renewable energy, is being used by farmers both as a cash crop and to power and heat the farm itself. Biomass fuel can also include sewage sludge and animal manure and can be a useful way of using a bi-product which may otherwise be difficult to dispose of with the increasing regulations.

Hydroelectricity is generated by the production of power through use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. Micro-hydro can be cost effective if you have a sufficient flow and head of water on your land.

With the Nitrate Vulnerable Zone designations, the requirement for farms to increase slurry storage capacity over the next few years could mean that farmers look to Anaerobic Digestion (another renewable energy source) as an alternative option for manure management. The gas produced from anaerobic digestion can be used to heat or produce electricity.

Experienced solicitors at Stephens Scown are available to guide and assist you in making optimum use of your land. For more help or advice, contact Sonya Bedford on 01392 210700, email s.bedford@stephens-scown.co.uk or visit www.stephens-scown.co.uk

Firm focuses on renewable energy sector with new team

A Westcountry law firm has created a new dedicated team to provide specialist advice on the renewable energy sector for the region’s farmers, land and property owners.

With the rapid growth in this market and the South West designated the UK’s first Low Carbon Economic Area, Stephens Scown has taken the step of appointing Sonya Bedford (pictured) as its new Head of Renewable Energy.

The specialist group, made up of experienced property, corporate and planning lawyers, are able to give legal advice on a range of matters including agricultural tenancies and compensation for loss of farming activities, options, leases and contractual issues.

The announcement comes as the firm, which has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell, launches a new specialist guide on solar energy, aimed at farmers and landowners, available on its website.

The sector is estimated to contribute around £215 million to the economy every year – many farmers and landowners are being approached by renewable energy providers and might be considering diversifying or supplementing their income, following the introduction of feed-in tariffs earlier this year.

Commenting on the new team, Sonya Bedford said, “Increasingly we’re acting for clients with a really diverse range of needs in the renewable energy sector – this includes local farmers and landowners, domestic property owners, major wind farm developers and operators, as well assisting villages or communities across the region to install wind turbines or solar panels. We are also involved in advising on property issues surrounding the Wave Hub site in Hayle.”

She added, “Working with local planning experts, accountants and other financial advisers, it makes sense to bring together all our expertise in one place to provide a more rounded service for clients. Here in the South West, because of our geographic position we’re really lucky to be able to harness the natural energy that surrounds us and renewable energy is ideally suited to rural areas.”

Sonya is an experienced senior agricultural and commercial property lawyer and is a member of Stephens Scown’s rural team. She is a Member of the Agricultural Law Association, a member of Regen SW and a Professional Member of the CLA and Member of Women in Property.

She added, “Landowners can reap the financial rewards that renewable energy brings but it’s equally important that people get the right advice to protect their assets. It’s a development area that many people are starting to explore, but can be easily caught out by the small print or enter into agreements without seeking proper professional advice.”

For more help or advice on renewable energy, contact Sonya Bedford on 01392 210700 or email s.bedford@stephens-scown.co.uk or visit www.stephens-scown.co.uk

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September 28 2010

For more information contact:

Ryan Martinez
Deborah Clark Associates
Tel: 01208 77900
ryan.martinez@dca-pr.co.uk

Ofgem’s Sustainable Development Focus has released figures showing that in the first 6 months of feed-in tariffs in the UK, over 11,000 generator have registered for the tariff, marking a considerable surge in solar photovoltaic installations in particular. Indeed, with 11,352 renewable systems installed, it indicates that the scheme has been more successful than predicted, with enough output to power around 35,000 homes.

Feed-in tariffs work by offering fixed, premium rates for both the energy generated from renewable systems (which is then fed-back into the grid), and the energy used. When first introduced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), it was with the intention of incentivising investment in green energy by off-setting the costs of installing renewable energy systems by creating long term, guaranteed yields from the projects. Emulating schemes applied successfully abroad, it seems that in the first 6 months of operation, the tariffs have certainly been effective as a means of boosting renewable installations across the UK.

In order to get the UK grid network fully up to speed with the complex requirements of a low-carbon economy, the Sustainable Development Focus Report also published its proposals for updating the country’s network. Working on a framework of Revenue= Incentives+ Innovation+ Outputs (RIIO), Ofgem is planning on generating £32 billion of investment much needed to upgrade a UK national grid not yet ready for green energy and the mechanisms set up around it.

Alistair Buchanan of Ofgem wrote in a foreword to the report,

“This is the biggest change to the regulatory framework for 20 years and sets the network companies on a path to playing their full role in the transition to a low-carbon economy while delivering value for money for all consumers.”

As a customer, its important to understand the process by which solar panels get from manufacturers to end users to ensure you’re getting a good deal.  In general, most solar panel manufacturers are big companies who produce in very large quantities. This means they generally prefer to sell to only a few large distributors in high volumes rather than have lots of smaller customers. This makes their sales process easier since managing many customers is very small time-consuming and costly.  The large distributors then sell to either smaller distributors or to installation companies.  The distributors aim to provide all the necessary components for installers, allowing them to buy in small quantities and providing technical support.

Examples of well known solar distributors in the UK are Dulas, Segen, Solar Century and Waxman.  Because the UK solar industry is so small and so new however, these UK wholesalers are very small compared to their European counterparts in Germany, Spain and France.  One of the biggest solar distributors in Germany, IBC Solar, will sell 500MW of solar equipment this year.  This compares to a total expected UK market size this year of 60MW! So IBC Solar sells nearly 10 times the total UK market, and is just one company!

Unsurprisingly, since the UK is now seen as an interesting emerging market in the solar industry, many of these large European distributors are moving over here.  I spoke to one last week that is investing 200 thousand pounds this year to set up a warehouse and employ a 5 person team to address the UK market. This is good news for UK installers because they will now have access to pricing that was only previously available to their counterparts in mainland Europe.  The UK wholesalers on the other hand may struggle to compete with such large competitors.

Competition is coming from all sides however, and there are now solar panel manufacturers who are moving downstream and becoming more like wholesalers. It is now possible for smaller installers to buy directly from a few of the European manufacturers, thereby bypassing the wholesalers and their margins.  To withstand this competition the big European wholesalers are trying to gain advantage by developing an array of advanced support services for wholesalers to win them over.  This includes things like credit lines, training and design software.

It is unclear whether these features will suffice since there is also competition from the big in-house installers.  In the US there is a very large installation firm called SolarCity which is going head to head with the wholesalers for marketshare, but does all installations using its own in-house team.  This has advantages in-terms of pricing and quality of service – there are no middlemen and they can guarantee the end to end service – the drawback is that growth is capital intensive and slow.

The market is evolving so rapidly it remains to be seen which business model will win out in the long run, what is clear is that there will be a lot of movement in the market – all of which is good for customers since it means prices will fall and customer service will improve.  So when choosing a solar panel system, try to find out where the installer buys their solar panels from, not just who the manufacturer is.  This will help you tell if you are getting a good deal or not.