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Projects leading the way for a more sustainable future in Hampshire

PUBLISHED: 15:27 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 15:31 28 November 2016

Just like Sparsholt have their and dairy farms, they are looking to create a gas farm

Just like Sparsholt have their and dairy farms, they are looking to create a gas farm

Archant

Hampshire is way behind when it comes to renewable energy solutions. Claire Pitcher investigates the projects helping to lead the way in making a more sustainable future

I’ve always been a great believer in renewable energy. I don’t come from a scientific or economics background, but some things just make logical sense – don’t you think? So I came to put this article together already knowing a few things and I was hopeful of being encouraged by the progress we’ve made in harnessing mother nature’s great power.

Here comes the ‘but’ folks. Hampshire as a county is, how can I put it, ‘under performing’ when it comes to the renewable energy it produces. It’s verging on embarrassing really. This isn’t just my opinion - it is based on actual facts – which I discovered in my discussions with Martin Heath, of Hampshire Renewable Energy Co-operative. “Hampshire spends a huge amount of money on energy per year, around £4billion,” he tells me. Almost all of that energy comes from outside of the county, from other power stations or we’re importing it. “So,” he continues, “If we started generating some energy ourselves it would save us a lot of money. For example, if we could make just 20% of what we use in the county, it would save £100s of millions.”


Untapped resources

And that’s not all - Hampshire has no excuse not to be investing in renewable energy. We are the most wooded county in the UK, we have a huge amount of agriculture, which means lots of biomass, plus we are the second sunniest county in Britain, perfect for solar farms. It doesn’t end there - we have the best tidal resource in Europe in The Solent. As one of the richest counties, we’re also one of the worst for creating pollution, yet we’re doing very little to combat it.

“We Hampshire residents need to pipe up and take responsibility,” stresses Martin. “Everyone else is meeting their targets. The UK wants to produce 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and broadly we’re not doing too badly. Some counties produce 13 or 14% of their own energy, Hampshire stands at just 2%.”


Thumbs down for Hampshire

So why are we so poor at this? “It’s not any one individual’s fault,” says Martin. “If you ask most people they don’t even think about where their energy comes from.

We haven’t made the link in our minds in Hampshire. Also, there doesn’t seem to be the political will in some of our councils. There are 1.2 million people in the county, even if we had 10% of us take notice that would be a great start.”


Being cooperative

Born out of a passion for wanting to do something about their reliance on imported energy and the effect it is having on the planet, Hampshire Renewable Energy Co-op was formed four years ago.

“We’re volunteers who come from Andover, Winchester and Basingstoke who came together because we were originally interested in creating a community wind farm at Bullington Cross, which is in between those towns.

“We all thought it would be a great idea to have something community owned. We would raise the money from the local community and the money would be used to build the farm and then the electricity it generated would be sold, bringing revenue that could pay back the members who’ve invested over a 20 year period.

“The scheme is designed to make a profit that’s fed back into the community, either to support other energy projects or to combat fuel poverty - an important issue to tackle in more rural areas,” Martin explains.


A blot on the landscape?

It transpired that energy company EDF had already signed the lease with the landowner where the co-op wanted to create the wind farm. However EDF agreed to let 10 per cent of the farm be community owned. There was opposition, but there was more support: “Around 2,800 people wrote to the council in support of the scheme. It is still the country’s most widely supported wind farm,” he points out. Unfortunately, EDF and the co-operative didn’t get planning permission.

“The overriding reason was that people didn’t think it looked nice. The next move was to lodge an appeal, but at the same time the government changed the rules on the feed in tariff and planning laws so the co-op decided it would cost too much. Even EDF decided it would no longer be financially viable and abandoned the idea. 


Solar power

Martin and the group of volunteers have not given up on creating community owned projects: “We’re now focusing on solar energy, particularly for large roofs, like those on factories and agricultural buildings.” They’ve recently met with a solar farm developer near Winchester and are also talking to schools and colleges around the county. “We’re saying that if they can give us their roofs, we can get the people of Hampshire providing the money. That means the panels are free for the school and they get cheap, green electricity, plus it’s a great educational resource too.” So if you are a school, college, business with warehouses or a farm with large buildings and your roof points south, Hampshire Renewable Energy Co-operative wants to hear from you.

“We’re quite confident as we already know of one cooperative, West Solent Solar, who have already raised £1.5million for a solar farm in the New Forest.”

This is great news and a small step forwards in the race to catch up with other parts of the country. Keep in mind what Martin told me: “If you were to draw a map of the UK and include all the wind turbines on there you’ll see a little hole where there isn’t any, and it’s called Hampshire.”

Find out more about Hampshire Renewable Energy Co-operative at hampshire-energy.coop

Sparsholt’s Green Gas Mill

Three year’s ago Sparsholt College also had their application for a wind turbine turned down. However, Principal Tim Jackson is supporting renewable energy supplier ecotricity in their plans to build the Hampshire Centre for the Demonstration of Renewable Energy at Sparsholt, along with a Green Gas Mill to produce biogas.

Ecotricity is offering a grant of £1.2million for the centre to be built on the premise that the plans are to be approved by the end of October. The Mill will be fuelled by locally harvested grass from marginal farmland and could produce enough clean gas to power the equivalent of over 4,200 UK homes, saving approximately 9,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

“In the same way as we have the pig, beef and dairy farms here, we will have a gas farm,” says Tim. “Not only that, but being at Sparsholt means our students are involved in the operations themselves. It’s all work experience. Young people will study here to specifically train in bio mass production.”

If the plans are approved, the building of the centre could start this time next year and gas generation some time in late autumn 2017. However, this project’s significance is about much more than that: “It’s about being relevant not just for the present but for the future. We’re looking for people who are likely to be trailblazers in the way they use the land.

To discover more about Sparsholt’s plans for Green Gas Mill visit www.sparsholt.ac.uk

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