“It’s made a massive difference to my farm business,” says Pip Rogers. “In fact we would not survive without it.” Pip and his family have been here – a mixed farm on the Radnorshire–Herefordshire border - for four generations. He’s talking about a gleaming installation – resplendently red and silver. The famous Ferrari logo, it seems, would not look out of place. It’s a 600kw biomass and “ORC” (Organic Rankine Cycle) energy plant. It would look almost absurd in this typical 280 acre mixed farm, verdant and muddy in the week January sun, with 85 beef cattle and 230 ewes – if it weren’t for the twin poultry-houses for which the plant provides a life-blood of heat and electricity. Here 80,000 chicks were delivered only days ago. They’re nurtured at 33 degrees: ventilated, watered, and fed in a comforting low-light. As chickens, they will be supplied via Cargill to major retail outlets.
“Without it my energy bill would be £2,000 a month more,” Pip continues. “Yes, it was a massive commitment for me. Frankly it was like buying another farm – but it has transformed my business.”
The plant was installed in 2016. “We have a decent conventional mixed farm here,” Pip continues, “But this – and the associated poultry operation – has given us a consistently performing production process.” Pip adds, “And it’s sustainable too, using naturally regenerating feedstock to create environmentally-friendly energy.” Pip points to the hopper of mixed dry chippings ready to be charged into the boiler. They come from the apple orchards of a nearby well-known cider-brand. If you down a glass of scrumpy in the pub tonight – you just might be playing your own part in this rural cycle.
Pip’s son Nick, 26 years of age and a recent graduate of Greenmount Agricultural College in Northern Ireland, is the biomass plant manager. “The feedstock costs us between £40 and £60 per tonne,” Nick explains. The plant will take any part of tree or shrub material – including brash,” he explains. He spins four wing-nuts and lifts an inspection-cover. The chip is being fed in an even bed and into a hi-tech controlled boiler.
The ORC unit uses the latest technology to optimise the energy-generated from the heat. Nick wipes a screen with a soft cloth and peers at the process mimic colour-coded and bearing feedback in performance figures. “It’s magic really,” Nick says. “It works it all out by itself.”
“What if it goes wrong?” I say, “There’s a lot at stake here, including eighty-thousand chicks and a commercial contract with your customer!” I exclaim. “Do you worry about the risk?”
The Rogers are 100 per cent owners of the plant, but a long-term service contract is in place for tuning, maintenance and repair with Novalux, the service-provider.” Based in Monmouthshire, the company works UK-wide, and has installed – or services – scores of renewable energy plant in rural Welsh farms and businesses.