10 years ago, this 5,000-acre hill-farm in southern Scotland ran 3000 sheep and 600 head of beef cattle. At that time the livestock produced 95% of the income with renewable energy (from mini hydro) contributing about 5%. Today, the farm’s renewable energy mix includes wind turbines, forestry, Combined Heat and Power (CHP), sawdust biomass residential heating, mini-hydro and solar power which collectively produce 70% of the total farm income. Forestry is a vital renewable resource which contributes income from high grade timber, wood chips for pulp and waste logs to drive the CHP power generator and home heating systems. The forestry also attracts carbon credit income. When a second wind farm is installed in about 2 years’ time, the renewable energy income will be more like 90% of total farm receipts. If you had to describe this business taking into consideration its primary source of income, then it would be a multi-source power station with cattle and sheep as a side-line. One decade ago, hill-farm land was worth less than half the value of the more productive flat land in the UK. The new opportunities for increased income presented by renewable energy systems and forestry have pushed the value of this type of hilly country to about 80% of the best country or close to double its earlier value.
This amazing revolution in the business structure of this and many other farming enterprises in the UK has been made possible by the confluence of a host of factors including technological advances in renewable energy systems, rising energy prices, a desire by society to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels (and therefore the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG)) and that never ending search by landowners for new ways to extract more income from their property by improving productivity using sustainable methods while enhancing the intrinsic value of the land.
Two things Scottish hill farms have plenty of is slope and running water, even at the top of the hills. These very small streams are dammed to divert some of the water into the black polythene pipe seen in the photo above. After a vertical fall of about 100 meters or more the water is directed into a turbine which drives and electric motor sending power to the homestead and the grid.
Neil Gourlay, who’s family owns this farm likes to say that with all these new enterprises operating together, there is never a bad day on the farm. If it is raining or snowing then the hydro water supplies are being topped up, if it is windy then the wind turbines will be making more money, if it is a sunny day then the grass and forest will be growing well, the solar panels will be generating a profit and the livestock will be gaining weight. Australian farmers and graziers need to have a good hard look at their enterprises to identify any potential opportunities for new sources of income through renewable resources. The obvious one for most parts of Australia is solar power which has now become so cheap to install that it seems logical that a large proportion of landowners should be able to efficiently generate all their own power needs and where possible be sending income generating power supplies back into their local grids.