scotland’s first farm-scale biogas plant could be established in the Borders, boosting green energy and creating up to six jobs.
The man behind the scheme, Jim Shanks of Standhill Farm near Hawick, says integrating the production of renewable power and food is the future for farming in the region.
Mr Shanks told TheSouthern: “Subsidies from Europe are not going to go on forever and at the moment they are keeping farmers in business and people on the land. Without the subsidies there would be serious problems.
“The Scottish Government can see the potential renewable energy will bring to the whole agriculture sector.
“There are 6,000 biogas plants in Germany – in Scotland we have none.
“In the early 1990s the Germans realised that it provided another income and got rid of food mountains which were stocking up. The potential of sustainable agriculture is huge.”
Before the biogas plant can be built, the dairy farmer – whose family have worked the land at Standhill for more than 50 years – must receive planning permission for a single 74-metre high wind turbine.
Mr Shanks, 33, has resubmitted the plans this week – they attracted about 200 objections last year mainly because of fears the turbine would ruin the surrounding countryside.
In the end, Mr Shanks withdrew the bid because of concerns that it would affect the Eskdalemuir nuclear test monitoring station.
But Mr Shanks, who studied how farms in other countries integrated food and energy production when he was awarded the Nuttfield Scholarship, is hopeful that the first and vital stage of his project will get the go-ahead this time.
He said: “As part of my scholarship, I visited the United States, Sweden, Denmark and Germany, and I have tried to pick the best bits from what I saw. However, I have very high grid connection costs so I need the wind turbine in order to operate the biogas plant.
“Without the biogas I can’t do wood fuel production or become an organic farm. So it all hinges on this planning application.
“On top of the milk and extensive range of cheeses produced on the farm at present, the wind turbine would open the door to the production of renewable electricity and heat, wood fuel, honey, tomatoes as well as the introduction of an organic, closed loop system.”
So far, the scheme has attracted the interest of three major food retailers wishing to become involved and Mr Shanks believes it would bring a side effect not normally associated with wind farms – a boost to tourism.
“When I went to the United States, a farmer said around 700 people visited his innovative farm every year,” he said. “People say there is no chance of people coming back to an area with a wind turbine – that is nonsense. This will instead bring people into the area.”
Mr Shanks added: “I left Hawick High School in 1996 and the number of 16 to 17 year old kids I see leave for university and not come back is huge.
“There are no prospects for them. It is about time we believed in our own economy and brought investment into rural businesses.
“There is an anti-development group in the Borders but I think we have an economy worth fighting for.”
Mr Shanks is involved in another renewable energy project, at Shawpark between Stow and Lauder, where he hopes to develop the first co-operative wind farm in the Borders.
Mr Shanks claims Stow, Lauder and Melrose could yield £35million over 20 years but is still awaiting a decision from Scottish Borders Council.