Blown Away by Renewable Energy

Jonathan Lamberton shoots the breeze with Noel Booth

It’s dried our clothes and held up our kites but now it’s being used to light chicken houses, milk cows and make toast. I’m talking about the wind.

Wind turbines no longer have to be the massive 100m high beasts that cluster over Northern Ireland’s hills. New developments are bringing this clean technology into our backyards.

In March this year Noel Booth, a farmer from Elagh, near Cookstown, finally erected a wind turbine on his farm. For a number of years now Booth has been attracted by the benefits of generating the electricity needed for his chicken house and milking parlour. With the cost of electricity on the rise it came just in time.

The turbine itself came from China but it was not the distance that proved the most difficult stage. As anyone building a new house or extension is aware, finalising planning permission is extremely difficult.

It is the same painstakingly slow process for a renewable energy source even though the government themselves are giving a 50% grant. Planners even made the ridiculous suggestion of erecting Booth’s turbine behind the shelter of a nearby tree.

It will take Booth between six to eight years to cover the cost of his new turbine and after that it will give him a free supply of electricity, when the wind blows of course!

The turbine has a life span of 20 years ensuring Booth over a decade of free electricity.

Booth was fortunate to have JA Graham Renewable Energy Service as a partner in this enterprise. Throughout the process the company took the lead.

'Without the help of Andrew Graham to get us through planning permission and to help us secure the grant it would never have been possible for us to get this far,' said Booth.

Electricity use on Booth’s farm peaks when the milking parlour is in full pump. This is when the turbine proves most useful, however, at other times there is a surplus of electricity and that means money in his pocket. Any surplus generated is sold back to Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) thereby reducing his bill..

The price NIE pay him is a sore point, however, as he gets just 1% of what the consumer pays. The transmission charges deter most farmers who want to diversify away from food production and use their energy crops to produce electricity.

Ireland has the potential to be a world leader in renewable and green energy. The winds along the North coast are among the most suitable in Europe. The power of the Atlantic waves, if tapped, can generate over half the island’s power needs alone.

An all-island energy market is approaching, and there are plans for an all-Europe market which, if successful, means that electricity generated on Noel Booth’s farm could be sold to a cinema in Greece or even a hostel in Slovakia.

Such a market won’t happen overnight but for now Booth is already saving hundreds of pounds on electricity and helping to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

'Just about anyone with a big enough electricity bill and the space could get a windmill up,' Booth added. 'I’m just an average farmer trying to reduce my bills and keep money in my pocket.'

With the results he's had it's clear that Booth's talk of the benefits of wind power is more than just hot air.