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Archers mucking out

The environmental propaganda machine continues to rumble forward on ‘The Archers’, BBC Radio 4’s venerable soap opera and green information channel. Tuesday’s episode featured an earnest discussion of anaerobic digesters on farms, turning animal muck into methane and generating electricity for sale back to the grid. According to jet-setting career agriculturist Debbie Aldridge, calling home from Eastern Europe where she runs her father’s offshore organic farming operation apparently single-handedly, the Germans are streets ahead of the UK with this technology. She wants a piece of the action at Home Farm.

It’s taken a while for art to imitate life. Last year the BBC reported how an agricultural college was using methane from the muck produced by its dairy herd to power its working farm all year round (‘College harnesses cow pat power‘ ), saying “the technology is used at more than 1,000 farms in Germany but only at a handful in the UK”.

Why are we so far behind here? The natural conservatism (small ‘c’) of UK farmers? Problems financing the project? General uncertainties in the farming industry? The idea seems to tick all the right boxes: cheap electricity, lower emissions, reduced water pollution. For me, the only fly in the ointment is the need for artifical fertilisers to replace the muck that used to be spread on the fields.

The reason they’re ahead in Germany is, you guessed it, money. In 2004, Renewable Energy World reported:

In Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, the incentive system for anaerobic digestion consists of both a subsidy for the green electricity generated, and of either investment subsidies or fiscal incentives. Of all the countries reviewed, Germany has the best investment climate for anaerobic digestion at this level, the main reason being its high feed-in tariff for the electricity generated – 10.1 Eurocents/kWh. Moreover, this rate is guaranteed for a period of 20 years.

Sounds tempting. I bet Brian Aldridge would jump at that deal, if it were available in the UK.

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-de-dum…

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