The NFU has given a mixed response to the announcement of the Government’s Feed-in Tariffs or ‘Clean Energy Cashback’ scheme which it says doesn’t go far enough to attract farmers and growers.

The Feed-in Tariffs (FITs), being introduced from April 1, will provide government-backed support for small-to-medium scale renewable electricity generation. Modelled on similar schemes across Europe, FITs are being introduced in response to lobbying by a coalition of diverse stakeholders, including the NFU, which sees opportunities for British farmers and growers to export renewable energy services alongside food production. However, the British scheme has already been criticised as lacking in ambition compared with its continental counterparts as it is expected to account for only two per cent of UK electricity production by 2020. The overall rate of return to developers has also been set at around five to eight per cent (seven to ten per cent with index-linking) – which the NFU says is attractive to householders, but doesn’t go far enough to attract many commercial investors such as farmers and growers.

NFU chief renewable energy adviser Dr Jonathan Scurlock said: “The proposed tariffs for anaerobic digestion (AD) have been dismissed as inadequate by many in the biogas sector, which had lobbied for a range of scaled tariffs similar to those on offer for small-to-medium wind power. Surprisingly, other forms of biomass power generation have been left out of the FIT scheme altogether, in yet another blow to the bioenergy industry.

“Farmers are willing and ready to contribute to the low-carbon energy revolution but we are deeply disappointed at this missed opportunity to encourage smaller-scale biogas production on farms. The multiple environmental benefits of thousands of on-farm AD plants will only be rolled out if smaller farm businesses can afford them. The government seems to have ignored the advice of its own AD Task Group, and now risks upsetting next month’s AD Implementation Plan by discouraging investment from the agricultural sector.”

The NFU says that tariffs available for small and medium-sized wind power (under 500 kilowatts), mini-hydro power and solar photovoltaics look more attractive, especially in the first two years of the scheme, while the proposed index-linking of the FIT is a welcome response to industry demands. However, solar electricity remains relatively expensive, and few farmers have access to falling streams for hydro power. Many agricultural applicants to the Feed-in Tariff will be left with only one technology choice – wind power.