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15th November 2012

Leading experts urge rural community to take early advice on Renewables

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Rural businesses and landowners can play a major part in achieving government targets for renewable energy and gain significant rewards, but without taking early advice they can also face serious pitfalls, delegates at a Cambridge seminar heard on Thursday (8th November 2012).

Hosted by four leading firms providing specialist expertise in the area, the Renewable Energy Seminar advised farmers, landowners and associated consultants and financial institutions on key issues that need to be addressed before embarking on an alternative energy scheme, and gave guidance on the potential pitfalls should they fail to take adequate professional advice early enough.

Opening the session, Professor Robert Tregay of LDA Design highlighted how the government’s targets for energy generation from renewable sources – which stand at 15% by 2020 and 35% by 2030 – mean that landowners have a wonderful opportunity to bolster their existing businesses with schemes designed to meet this need for energy production: via wind, solar, biomass and anaerobic digestion schemes.

The potential financial rewards can be significant which is excellent news for farmers and landowners looking to diversify from traditional farming. However, there can be significant challenges ranging from short term planning controls to long-term inheritance tax issues.

Gareth Williams, partner at Hewitsons Solicitors comments:

Many decisions, critical to the cost and ultimate success of a renewable energy scheme, are made in the very early stages. These include: the type of technology to be deployed; the choice of site; and the way in which the project is to be structured commercially.

Making decisions at this point without taking appropriate professional advice can leave the farmer or landowner counting the cost later. This may be in terms of a scheme being rejected at the planning stage, when this could have been avoided with better site selection. Or even further down the line, when the implications of a commercial energy scheme become apparent in terms of significantly higher inheritance tax.

Speakers Charles Crawford of LDA Design, Colin Jones and Gareth Williams of Hewitsons, Jon Stables of Berrys and Jonathan Selwyn of Lark Energy, outlined how scheme costs can be minimised, return maximised and risk removed from renewable energy projects. Their advice covered: The effective management of the planning process; developing an understanding of available legal protection; the financial structuring of such schemes; and the every-changing political landscape.

Speaking on behalf of co-hosts Hewitsons, partner Colin Jones says:

Renewable energy generation presents a fantastic opportunity to the rural community, but is still fraught with risks. The Seminar was well received by the invited audience and the Q&A session proved a valuable means for them to share their own experiences.

While a wide range of topics were discussed the core learning was that it is vitally important to get professional advice in the very earliest stages, as an expert view can re-shape a scheme quite radically. Fortunately excellent professional advice is available, and can help farmers and landowners gain the best returns from this 21st century opportunity.

This article can also be read on the Farming Uk Website by following this link.