Renewable energy and rural Kent businesses

Managing woodlands to produce wood fuel

Managing woodlands to produce wood fuel - Credit: Archant

Against a background of rising energy prices and concerns about an imminent UK energy gap, the CLA has been encouraging owners of rural land and property to embrace energy efficiency and renewable energy options

Against a background of rising energy prices and concerns about an imminent UK energy gap, the CLA has been encouraging owners of rural land and property to embrace energy efficiency and renewable energy options.

In Kent, we are ahead of the national curve and estimates have found that more than 19,000 people in the county are employed in renewable and low-carbon technology related industries.

Many people living and working in the Kent countryside are already taking advantage of renewable energy systems. By doing so, they are reducing their bills while boosting the local economy and also protecting the environment.

Renewable energy and the benefits on offer are not just the preserve of larger firms developing wind farms, energy from waste facilities or solar farms.

While the opportunities for both businesses and homes in the countryside are compelling, some have found there are hurdles that need to be overcome before the benefits can be accessed and enjoyed.

CLA lobbies Government and is working with local and central authorities to reduce red tape for renewable energy generation, campaigning for better grid connections in rural areas and for a simplified planning process for small anaerobic digestion systems.

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Renewable energy does not need to be on a large scale. There are much smaller-scale opportunities under the Renewable Heat Incentive for businesses, landlords and homeowners, particularly in biomass and ground-source heat pumps for those looking at refurbishment.

This Government initiative pays participants in the scheme that generate and use renewable energy to heat their buildings. It has been open to industry and businesses since 2011, and in April 2014 the scheme opened for homeowners and landlords for the first time.

If you are off mains gas and you have a southerly facing roof or space for ground-mounted solar photovoltaics, the RHI is certainly worth exploring.

Solar PV still offers solid returns and reviews have brought stability to the market. Domestic installation will reduce costs and pay for its self in eight years.

In Kent, there is a strip of land along our coastline with one of the highest solar irradiance levels in the UK, an intensity of sunlight which not only helps crops grow but also creates an opportunity for solar energy generation. Kent is also naturally suited to wood-fuel heating systems thanks to our well-wooded landscape, in particular the Kent Downs and High Weald.

However, almost half of privately owned woodland in Kent is not being actively managed, largely because traditional markets have disappeared so management has been uneconomic for decades.

Yet the market for wood as a renewable local fuel source is growing and creating a good opportunity for woodland owners to see a real and direct return from managing their woods. A well-managed woodland will be more productive in harvesting wood for wood fuel and will also bring a number of important environmental benefits.

I sometimes talk with people who think that woodlands will happily look after themselves. In fact, an environmentally beneficial, healthy woodland should be managed actively through tidying up dead wood, selectively thinning to create space and light, planting new trees, coppicing, dealing with pests or disease and maintaining woodland tracks.

Managing woodlands to produce wood fuel can help trees become healthier and the woodland more diverse, increasing its resilience to pests and disease, and a better habitat can be created for flora and fauna.

The developments in the wood fuel industry are exciting, and allow businesses and homeowners to use our oldest form of energy in a modern way.

CLA Kent members’ farms and estates are leading the way in rejuvenating this industry to deliver sustainable energy sources for generations to come. n