Food industry gives on-site turbines a second wind

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wind turbine Renewable energy

Food industry gives on-site turbines a second wind
On-site wind turbines look set to offer an increasing number of UK manufacturers a cheap and more sustainable alternative to meeting their energy...

On-site wind turbines look set to offer an increasing number of UK manufacturers a cheap and more sustainable alternative to meeting their energy needs but only provided they are in sufficiently windy parts of the country and can get planning approval.

Several new projects are at the planning stage having undergone viability assessments. Once they are built, they will contribute to the growing demand for alternative energy to help reduce the estimated 12Mt of greenhouse gas emissions that come each year from UK food and drink manufacture.

One of the country's largest egg producers, Noble Foods, already has 11 small-scale wind turbines operating across the UK, as well as a number of solar generators. Working with on-site wind developer Wind Direct, it is currently carrying out feasibility studies on bigger wind turbines on five of six of its larger sites. It is hoped that two or three sites will prove suitable for generating electricity on-site, with any excess exported to the national grid.

Wind Direct is working alongside a number of other firms to install wind turbines on-site, including Mars' Complementary Petcare site at Birstall in West Yorkshire, which is going through the planning approval process, and Dewlay Cheese at Garstang in Lancashire.

"The food industry is a sector where there is clearly a lot of demand at the moment," said Wind Energy sales director Chris Porter, who claims the cost of electricity from wind is less than for "brown electricity" purchased from the national grid. "What we are trying to do with people is encourage them to be green; but if they can save money as well it is an easier fit."

In a recent study of 600 UK food and drink sites, Wind Direct found 3.7% were potentially suitable for large-scale on-site wind turbines.

One of the reasons for some companies installing such technology is to prove their "green credentials" to their powerful retail customers and avoid the risk of being de-listed as the multiples start to 'choice edit' their suppliers based on environmental considerations as much as quality and cost. However, Porter admits: "For the vast majority of sites you can't [install wind turbines] for lots of reasons." These range from planning objections to lack of sufficient wind, he added.

Speciality cheesemaker Dewlay received planning consent in April 2009, following an appeal surrounding visual impact, and expects to be generating electricity from a single 2MW turbine around the third quarter of this year.

Under Wind Direct's contractual model with its clients, it uses its extensive expertise to negotiate planning consent costing typically between £50,000 and £100,000 and pays for the capital costs of installation, amounting to something like £3M for a 2MW turbine. Clients typically agree to take electricity supplies for 10 years at an agreed rate.

"We pay for all the costs associated with getting the turbine up and running it for 25 years," said Porter. "In return, the client agrees to buy the electricity we generate from the turbine and we fix the price of that electricity."

The reason it is possible to fix the price is because the wind is a free resource and the capital cost is known. "So you can actually forecast reasonably accurately how much wind you get so you can work out the cost per kilowatt and logically you can fix the price of electricity long-term."

Through the renewables obligation, the installation gets a tradeable "green certificate" as a financial incentive for renewable technology. "We get the green benefit, which effectively pays for the project," said Porter.

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