Where there’s muck there’s…. problems oh and opportunities. Diffuse pollution and a future energy source but how?

Farm Yard muck store just above the lake and the main water courses.

A few organisations have just started working on a joint project to deal with diffuse pollution from farm-yard manure through the use of Anaerobic Digesters (AD) but using something called a Dry AD approach, which is not as it sounds it should be called ‘dryer’ AD. The challenge we are dealing is that with a lot of farm muck stores being outdoors and within water catchments a lot of the nutrients are washed out and down into water courses and case a lot of problems for us, wildlife and general ecology (eg the toxic blue-green algae we have been suffering from in some lakes, low water quality, low in fish and wildlife) Conversely the farm and food in general needs these nutrients to grow.

why AD? generally covering most of the rural areas would a) be prohibitively expensive with most small farms not able to afford and b) generally change the look of the things we hold most dear our countryside. but could also have an income stream but at worst be cost neutral going down the small AD route But the main challenge for a Farm Yard Manure (FYM) AD system is that a cow has already taken out most of the energy from the grass and so what will the bacteria within FYM live on? For this feasibility we are looking at adding crops such as soft rush, bracken and generally anything which is a non food crop and its management can enhance biodiversity and or food production. The other advantage is that we also get to manage the nutrients in the system and apply them at the right time of year in the right way to the crops which needs them.

From my side, I am interested in diffuse pollution element but methanee management as a climate changing gas and also the energy elements through the production of biogas.  Especially with the move from fossil fuel in the next 20 or so years and to see if the farm could supply itself and the next range of tractors, use in a generator for heat and electricity generation in the farms and so on

For this work we are working with Seven Wye Energy Agency (Biomethane Regions), University of Wales (Wales centre of excellence for Anaerobic Digestion) Snowdonia National Park Authority. Thanks to Arloisi Gwynedd (EU Leader) for part funding this feasibility study with additional resources from the EU Biomethane Regions in three of our farms. As ever more to come!

Arwyn the NT Farm manager thinking muckie thoughts. “I wonder about the nutrient flow, storage and practicality within our farm”?

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Proud, proud, proud. Community Energy Wales wind turbine project…

We can do wonderful things when we work together. The 900kw EWT turbine now up in Carmarthenshire. Over 2GWh pa annum here we come

Nothing beats doing things. Talking is ok and can change things but achievement in my mind is leaving a legacy (a good one). We are a few days from completion (G59 grid switch on 3rd of August) of this 900kw Community Energy Wales wind turbine in Carmarthenshire. As a director of Community energy Wales this is one of the best renewable energy projects i have been involved because of the very short time frame, the £1.8m raised to build and most of us are volunteers. But this is a full on team effort lead by Jeremy Thorp as the coordinator of this multi headed hydra. The representative body of the Community Energy sector in Wales took on a commercial wind turbine prospective project which had stalled and developed, funded, built and commissioned quite a big project. Good idea discussed earlier in the year, construction started in May and completion will be in the first few days in August. The breadth of quality oozes from every aspect of this project from the manufacturer EWT co financing part of the construction phase,  environmentally conscious people underwriting part of the construction phase and through to Welsh Government stepping in to part finance the project phase. The project is stunning in every aspect from financial management, the project construction contract suite and warranties and so on through to the company engineer we took on to represent CEW during the build so that we could react quickly was again top drawer stuff.

Now what next? Once up and running we will then start on the community share offer so that as many people as possible can own a share of this large project and move the benefit as far and as wide as possible. We will start on a community benefit fund and anything remaining will be used to keep Community Energy Wales going delivering support and outcomes. As part of CEW I am doing quite a bit of ministerial and assembly members work in dealing with this terrible business rates legacy. I addressed a cross party group last week, we have many encounters with minister’s, questions now going to parliament, first minister, heads of stuff, senior civil servants and the list goes one and one. (ps we are stronger together…did you know that?)

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We know more about what will happen to the Antarctic than our homes and special places through the impacts Climate change #adaptation

The Fit for the future network is starting on a climate change focus in its new strategy. Specifically what can member orgs ‘do’. Climate change adaptation or in my words doing something about the impacts. Can I get one thing clear. Climate change is here and now. Its effects in terms of changing seasons, species changes, frequency of bad weather, overall increase in average temperature is ‘ now’. Think of the atmosphere as minestrone soup on a cooker. The more heat you put into the pan the more the soup will warm up but also the bits will swirl round in the pan (weather)

My house is environmentally friendly but the environment is not friendly to it. I must adapt

Mitigation plans are now starting to translate into action plans slower than needed but at least there are plans to basically slow down the rate, which the heat is going into the imaginary soup pan or Earth, as we like to call it. But there will be at least a 25-year delay between stopping (we are a long way off the stopping) and the heating slowing down. This will have an impact on us all… and so what do we do about this change how do we adapt or adaptation planning and adaptation action planning (the doing bit) seas are rising, diseases will spread quicker, heat with dry stuff out, water will be scarce or too much will fall in one go. People also talk of the upside and we in the UK are in the Goldilocks zone. Not too hot and not too cold . People talk of vineyards, extended growing seasons and such like but they will have storms and erratic rainfall  and all manner of impacts to deal with

The Fit for the future networks members have decided that the next strategic plan for the network will be looking at climate change and more specifically the ‘doing’ end of climate change. The adaptation side to the oncoming impacts. What do we do? The evaluation, sharing, action and business end of planning. To that ends a couple of days ago we sent out a questionnaire to members to see where they are on the ‘doing’ journey. Simple questions range from ‘where is your organisation on the climate change journey’ answers will range from ‘we are aware’ through to we have it built into our business plan with resources and people doing the adaptation work ’What does adaptation look like? This is a huge list and ranges from what type of trees to plant in ancient park lands as we are already losing our oaks in some sites as they can’t cope with sodden ground and high winds, rain water goods on buildings to deal with bigger lumps of rain,  through to sewage systems and where to put them on coastal areas if they will get more regular flooding, how do we deal with increased and or decreased rainfall by building resilience into landscape scale work eg reed beds, riverine planting, large attenuation ponds and so on

Lovely but threatened. National Trust are working on the adaptation planning for this area in N Wales

Before planning the journey we are asking our members where they are starting from?

Where are you starting from? Change is here and now it will only accelerate as these things do!

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Business rates killing community hydro and some!

We don’t do community hydro for personal gain. But it’s taxed as through it is.

Its been a while coming this blog but i have been living the dream of the impact of the business rates revaluation on community hydro. A community hydro we have been working with is in danger of being taxed to death. More on that later

What are business rates? They are a sort of tax (currently 49%) on the notional rent value of a thing such as land, chattels, plant and machinery, which is set by the Valuation office (Business rates valuation) They are covered in something called the Plant and Machinery order  which in essence started life in 1925 as an order but can trace its lineage back to the doomsday book as this defined ‘things which could be taxed’ (the ‘hereditament’ as its called. Jargon is us in this area)

A hydro because a lot of the stuff is built into the ground has been un-fairly impacted way over what other renewables have been impacted. For example I know of a wind turbine of 4700kwp in power which is paying the same business rates as a 270kw hydro (around £25k pa). the wind turbine makes 13 million kwh per year and the hydro makes 950 thousand KWh pa. It’s because of the way the plant and machinery order looks at the ‘thing’ and the assumption of landlord vs tenant investment. Quite often a tenant funds the whole thing but the order assumes that a lot of the underground stuff is the Landlord and so can raise rates on it

Doing good for future generations and for our communities

What does this mean in terms of impact? The Bethesda community hydro (Ynni Ogwen) in N. Wales switched on a few weeks ago after 3 years plus of hard graft. Halving of its FIT just before registration and thousands of hours of volunteer time, complete local buy-in with the shares and all to provide local benefit through the surplus. The Business Rates valuation last week from the valuation office all of this benefit (surplus), yes all of it will now go to the Government. The initial business model had been based on the previous business rates regime and we had assumed a 10% increase as happened last valuation but it came in at a tad over 300% thus wiping out the reason why the community fully backed, funded and supported the hydro. In Scotland the Government gives 100% rates relief for community energy and England have capped the increase for community energy to no more than an extra £50 per month. The valuation in Bethesda is too high for small business rates relief and it can’t apply for transitional relief because it is  a new hydro and it’s not transitioning from anything as it did not pay before, as it was being built. Perfect storm as you might say. This is affecting many hydros private and community

Governments both UK and Wales are being lobbied. We are also applying to the local authority to use its discretionary powers as this is a social enterprise with no one profiting and all of the surplus going to community sustainable development (called philanthropic rates relief). We will have sufficient turnover to look after the local share-holders but with nothing left over. This is a social business which can not grow its way out of this increase as the FIT and water abstraction regime are fixed (unlike many other businesses) . This to all of us involved feels like a tax on volunteering and community development with a bit of climate change tax thrown in (but on the low-carbon side) where as if we had a Fracking gas drill rig then… I best stop there!

Fixing it will take an amendment to the plant machinery order which may not be simple given that everything is Brexit in Government and so we are hoping Welsh Gov will come in to help to lobby UK Gov but also to come up with a Wales solution. But at the moment finger nails are down to the bone and we have a lot more lobbying and asking to do


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Help!…which log stove to choose and what do you have to consider… lots!

My fire-place. old fire in. Not efficient and wants to fall apart

I am on full log burning research at the moment. I’m halfway through building a Clay Oven in the garden, other log burning stuff being fixed (more later) but I have been doing quite a bit of research on which log stove to replace the current not really satisfactory Franco Belge which was an eBay special (if its too cheap it’s too cheap!). Not sized correctly and very used which means bits tend to fall off with the odd crack for good measure in the hearth!

So I have been going after this new stove thing like a work project. First question ‘How much heat do I need’? Online heat loss tools vary greatly as does my house. Open staircase in the heated room to the open landing. Windows, connecting doors, external door, large porch, difference in insulation and ventilation rates along with a nice 100mm room vent through my 900mm thick stone walls with another 100mm of external insulation. Most online tools seem to err on about 3.5kw but some has high as 5.75kw. Advice from my colleague Rob was that stoves seldom operate on ‘flat out mode’ which means slight oversize. My gut feeling and some of the online tools seem to suggest around the 5kw mark.

I have a lined chimney, good fuel, nice new log store with 20m3 of fuel in it (it’s now had three summers to dry… a bit extreme i know). I have good ventilation. I would have liked a direct feed from the outside air to the fire but chimney is in the middle of the house with no outside wall. I have a good room vent which is ok. Right, which one? I have now spent a few weeks on this and come up with something unexpected which is a locally made fire which all the online feedback seems to rate as do a few HETAS stove installers in their own houses. I have looked at the Clearview, Charnwood, Stovax, Burley and more and there is about a £1000 variation at the size I want. I am now looking at a Chilli Penguin Woody stove thanks to a recommendation from Vickie in the office. Price is good but the main aspect is the quality which is superb and very high efficiency and that it’s made on the Llyn Peninsula! Oh and it looks cool!

Before you say anything I will also get a competent HETAS person to install so that I get the whole thing from heat loss to commissioning covered

Any further advice, suggestions? I am now crowd sourcing advice!

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Heat pumps. Renewable energy generation or efficient use of electricity? Which one?

Hafod y Llan 40kw ground source heat pump. Renewable energy  generation or an efficient use of electricity?

Paul and I have been having a debate around what sort of energy a heat pump produces. Does it sit in the ‘energy efficiency camp” and should be counted as efficient use of electricity or does it lean towards Renewable Energy generation and should be counted as generating energy. Paul and I agreed after some thinking that it was ‘efficiency’ as the ‘fuel’ (electricity) for the system was being used efficiently. A heat pump  was up to 300% more efficient  than a normal electrical heater  using its fuel (grid electricity)  (you input one unit of electricity into a convector heater and it produces 1 unit of heat for example but you get up to 3 times more heat from a heat pump”  ergo more efficient”I was happy”…but something was niggling and I had some time on Saturday morning and as I am a qualified GP (Google Practitioner) and so had a read. First of all what are the definitions of the two terms. I found theses which i was happy with

  • “Energy efficiency is a measure of energy used for delivering a given service. Improving energy efficiency means getting more from the energy that we use.” DECC report
  • “Renewable or infinite energy resources are sources of power that quickly replenish themselves and can be used again and again. BBC bitsize

I found plenty of evidence supporting both efficiency and renewable cases for a heat pump and some crackpot stuff as well. Lots of American articles call a ground source system geothermal which to my mind it is not. Most of the energy for the collector comes from the sun ultimately as it heat the surface ready to be harvested and not from the depths powered by volcanic activity (you can get these but they are different systems completely. (The Sun also heats the air, surface or water for heat pumps.. renewable?)

The problem is the electricity to power the heat pump which is mostly grid electricity and so is often not so renewable. But if you look at this electricity as auxiliary (making the thing work) and look at other renewables then it may be a different beast. Most renewable energy systems have an auxiliary need.For example the NT hydro on Snowdon produces approx 2,000,000 kWh pa annum. But it also has an auxiliary grid electrical supply  when the hydro is off to keep the lights on, energize the main controller, open valves, open the jets and this can be around 8,000kw pa. Is the hydro a very efficient use of electricity or a renewable energy system? One electrical unit into the hydro basically produces two hundred and fifty units of electricity out?

Hmm… Persuasive on the renewables argument. The heat pump harvests energy in the form of heat which has come from the sun which I take it to be renewable in human terms


If using this auxiliary energy view and that up to 3/4 of the energy for a heat pump comes ultimately from the sun I am now erring on the side of renewable energy from a heat pump as long as we take out the electrical bit from the overall heat produced. Efficiency is though the key. If the auxiliary energy from grid becomes more of the % then we would need to re-look at the argument.  But I am open to a counter argument on this as I am still in my GP mode! (p.s. lets not get into f-gas in heat pumps and such like as there are some nasty metals and stuff in many renewable energy systems as well) Persuade me either way! I am still in receive mode! Ps either way it’s still a good heat source if designed and operated correctly!

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Future-fit, not retrofit

Carrog Farm mid refurbishment. Ground source heat system installed with a mole ploughed glycol circuit. We have insulated the roof and added soffit line insulation. radiators have been oversized but still retaining the  cottages character

There have been to all intents and purpose old buildings and these buildings within the same caveats been modified with the ‘latest’ tech. I have used in the past the example of the latest heating system added to an old Welsh hall house which had the latest heating system modification added to is some hundred years after construction. You may be aware of the tech’ its called a chimney as opposed to a central hearth and this was fitted sometime in the early seventeenth century. We are doing the same but we do have an eye  to keeping the site true to its original design so that you can follow its evolution. Today and it was a very wet Ysbyty Ifan Estate I was looking with Emyr and Dan at two examples of these future fit jobs namely Carreg yr Ast farm with its new air source heat pump and Carrog farm mid work with its latest ground source heat pump. Stunning locations and buildings retaining much of their original character but with new tech’. I was there to also look at what next? Carreg yr Ast has put in the cabling for a new PV system to work with the air source system and I was also looking at my favourite subject namely a small peco hydro possibility for the stream flowing through the farm at Carrog. Lets see. More future fit to come I’m sure!

Carreg yr Ast ASHP installed on the gable of the building. no more oil on site. PV to come

Hmm. Flowing, falling water in the yard at the farm. This energy needs harnessing with a small peco hydro system but lets see…

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