Bioenergy Business Support to Rural Enterprises in the West Midlands

Mike Woollacott (right) is working with EBRI to run a series of events for farm based businesses in the West Midlands

EBRI and Warwickshire-based Greenwatt Technology have combined their technical, business and farming expertise to provide a programme of bioenergy business support to rural businesses and landowners across the West Midlands. In this guest blog, Mike Woollacott, Managing Director of Greenwatt, talks about why this specialist support is so important.

Rural businesses and landowners are increasingly turning to renewable energy solutions, due to a range of issues impacting upon their current rural business activities, including the rising costs of energy and transport fuels, environmental legislation and the impact of climate change. The introduction of renewable energy activities offers business diversification opportunities for rural and farm enterprises looking to enter a new market.

In a recent survey carried out by the Farmers Weekly amongst 698 farmers and landowners, 38% of responders have already installed at least one renewable energy technology, and of these, bioenergy – made up of biomass for heat, anaerobic digestion and biofuel cropping – accounts for 31% of renewable energy installations, second only to solar PV.

Across the West Midlands, with large amounts of land and bio-resource available, we consider that the West Midlands is in an excellent position to exploit the commercial opportunities for bioenergy. Maximising this resource has the benefits of reducing energy inputs, improving rural incomes through the export of power and heat (either to the national grid or via local supply grids), reducing greenhouse gas emissions and integrating good environmental practices.

In addition to running our renewable energy consultancy, I am directly involved in a bioenergy enterprise on our rural business – a family farm in Derbyshire. Having sold the pedigree dairy herd some 10 years ago, my father Bill (now 89 years young, shown with me opposite) – wanted to keep active and maintain a working interest in the farm. Seven years ago, with wheat prices at the time at rock bottom and with heavy Grade 3 land previously subjected to opencast mining, we decided to plant 40 hectares of Miscanthus (Elephant Grass) using a Government bioenergy establishment scheme. Now into its sixth year of production and farmed under contract we have enjoyed strong gross margins after early establishment problems. We combine energy farming with sheep grazing and farm environmental stewardship – maintaining a mixed farming business producing food and fuel! We know that many of our colleagues are looking for ways to sustain and expand their businesses.  Bioenergy – whether biogas, biomass or biofuels – offers real potential – but support is needed to make the right technical and financial decisions, develop their business plan, and implement successful projects