29 January 2019

Fuelling farming after Brexit

By Ben Parker, Trainee Solicitor, Hayes + Storr.

Brexit is not the only cause of concern in what is becoming an increasingly unpredictable future for farmers. Since the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008, concerns over the UK’s investment towards cleaner sources of power are creating added questions for farmers including how they should look to fuel their businesses, heat large buildings and importantly, work towards greater efficiency and avoid getting caught by Government policy of the future.

A recent report from the Environmental Audit Committee released on the 16th May 2018 titled: Green Finance: mobilising environment in clean energy and sustainable development provides a useful resource for farmers on how they might invest in sources of renewable energy for fuel and heating in the coming years.

The report states that a ‘steadily rising carbon price will be necessary to achieve our (the UK’s) carbon budgets in the 2020s and 2030’s.’ Suggesting that any farming business looking to reduce costs and become more efficient should incorporate renewable fuels into their business structure as much as they can.

Understandably concerns may then turn to the costs and the benefits of making the transition to renewable energy sources. The report challenges the UK Government to ‘restore confidence’ with the aim of capitalising on ‘the falling costs of generating electricity from renewables, like wind and solar.’ This shows that not only are renewable sources of energy becoming more cost-effective, but UK Governments of the present and future are also likely to feel that it is in their best interests to incentivise renewable energy use.

With many references to ‘Carbon Pricing’ in the report it does not seem viable that the cost in carbon fuel will ever decrease. Farmers should take note of this and see the potential for capitalising on what looks to be, an inevitable future. Although many farmers may agree that turning to renewable sources of fuel is both cost-effective and better for the environment, how can this be achieved and what are the legal implications that Farmers must be made aware of?

The three main sources of fuel that farmers can look to invest in are bio-mass boilers, on-shore wind farms and solar panels. With each of these sources of renewable energy, the following areas require close attention:

1. Planning Permission

All three of these sources of renewable energy might require some form of planning permission. Therefore it is always advisable to consult your local planning authority before beginning any project. Points to note are that both wind farms and solar panels may not require planning permission so long as specific criteria are met. With regard to bio-mass boilers, care must be taken because should they dramatically alter the building they are connected to, they may also require planning permission. Common to all three forms are the restrictions applied when building on or near listed buildings so extra caution is advised. Legal advice should always be sought in conjunction with any discussion with a planning authority to ensure you are absolutely certain on what planning is required and what procedures and checks should be carried out prior to installation or construction.

2. Certification

As with all installations or adaptations to land and property, it will be necessary to ensure that you receive the correct certification and paperwork that ensures you are adhering to government regulations and standards. The time may come when you wish to sell the property and these certificates will become vital.

3. Leases and Agreements

For a number of reasons, it may be more beneficial to the farmer to lease bio-mass boilers, solar panels or wind turbines. In other situations, it may also be necessary to enter into agreements with other businesses or providers of these sources. In both of these situations, it is necessary to understand the legal implications and the rights of the other party. Legal advice will help when entering an agreement, to ensure piece-of-mind.

Looking to the Future

Those who despair over the uncertainty of Brexit should be reassured that both the UK and the European Union will look to continue reducing dependency on carbon fuels. This element of certainty provides a good opportunity for investment. However, as with any investment, make sure you obtain necessary legal advice throughout the decision making process.

This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek our specific advice.

If you would like further advice on this matter please contact Ben Parker or Susan Matthews on 01328 863 231. For all other legal matters call 01328 863231 or email law@hayes-storr.com.

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