Council Funds Feasibility Study For Peterborough Renewable Energy Park

08:08 Monday 8th October 2012
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: You’re wasting one of the most fertile pieces of land in the country. That’s what the National Farmers’ Union is condemning Peterborough City Council for. The authority is planning to use 3,000 acres of farmland for a renewable energy park, including wind farms and solar panels. The proposal would see the Council become an energy provider for the City and, it says, lead to lower council tax for all. But Peter Brewer (Group Secretary from the National Farmers’ Union) says no agricultural land should be taken out of production. (TAPE)
PETER BREWER: The land is very very productive. It’s grade one, grade two agricultural land, which is the best quality land you can get. It will produce significantly more crops per acre if you like, than other less productive land. I sympathise with Peterborough City Council in that they have a huge budget deficit. I’m not sure whether they have genuinely explored all options, and all the alternatives around, and if this is the most viable way of filling that deficit. (LIVE)..
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s speak to Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City Council. We’ve spoke about this before, and in principle I think a lot of people thought it was a great idea. But putting them on some of the most fantastic arable land in the country, is that a good idea?
MARCO CERESTE: Well it’s also, well first of all let’s get things .. a couple of things straight. We’ve got a feasibility study going on at the moment, which may come back and say, well actually there’s nowhere where we can do this, because there maybe this problem and that problem and the other problem. And, you know, then of course, who do you .. you know, it would have been a complete waste of time talking to anybody. But when the feasibility is complete, anybody that’s listening, you have my word for it that I’m quite happy to talk to anybody and everybody that’s going to be affected. And I think we also need to be clear, when you say three thousand acres of land taken idea of the energy park will be solar panels, and that’s where you will take some of the land out of production. But of course where you build wind turbines, the farmers that have got wind turbines on their land, can continue to farm if they so wish. So you will lose a little bit, but nothing like what you would lose if you had a solar panel farm.
PAUL STAINTON: But we’ve heard this morning that that can impact on grazing sheep and everything else. They don’t lamb properly because of the turbines. We’ve heard that this morning.
MARCO CERESTE: Well, you know, if it’s fertile land and you’re growing corn, you’re not grazing sheep. So let’s get it right shall we?
MARCO CERESTE: I do really really do sympathise with everybody, because quite frankly like the farmer said, it’s his farm, it’s his livelihood. And if it turns out, if it turns out that we need his farm for energy production for the city, then obviously we will look to compensate him, and try and make sure that he’s OK.
PAUL STAINTON: Wouldn’t it be wise though to just rule out that section of arable land that’s incredibly fertile, some of the best in the country, and say to the people doing the feasibility study, well,  look everywhere you can, but obviously don’t look at the best  bits of land we’ve got for growing food.
MARCO CERESTE: Well no. You see Paul, that’s where you see you can’t do that, because actually, building a farm, and energy farm, is about where you can get .. one of your readers .. one of your listeners said, where can you get the right grid connections, so that you can actually make it work, and it’s economical.
MARCO CERESTE: And so that’s one of the reasons we’ve got the environment .. the study. Now as I say the study may come back said you haven’t got any grid connections. We can’t do it properly, so therefore you can’t do it. It may turn round and identify areas that where you can do it.  And in the end, you know, I have tremendous sympathy for those people who may lose their farms. We will try and compensate them however we possibly can, and certainly talk to them all. So once we know what’s happening, everybody else will know what’s happening, and you know, we’re trying to protect our city, you know, we’re trying to have energy sufficiency, which is incredibly important. I won’t say it’s as important as food, but in, you know ..
MARCO CERESTE: .. if your lights go, and your fridge is cut, cut out, and you can’t have a modern life, it’ll take us back a few centuries.
PAUL STAINTON: I think we all see that. I think we all realise that in the next twenty or thirty years something has got to be done. It’s just where and how and when. This feasibility study, how much is it costing us?
MARCO CERESTE: Oh it’s about .. well, it’s probably about seventy or eighty thousand pounds. But it’s very difficult to see. to say exactly until it’s completed, what you’re going to find.
PAUL STAINTON:  Is there a cap on the cost of it?
MARCO CERESTE: Well we’ve got an idea of what it’s going to cost, and clearly we’re keeping an eye on costs as they go along. So we could stop it if we wanted to.
PAUL STAINTON: Would you have an upper limit though? Would you have a point where you think, well that’s enough? Because it could be a damp squid couldn’t it? You said yourself it can come back and say it’s nothing.
MARCO CERESTE: There’s going to be some places where it’s going to work no matter what. We’re just not .. we’re not exactly sure the exact dimensions or the exact bits. But there are some places where it’s going to work, so we’re not going to lose money on it.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. If it costs a hundred and fifty grand, you’d stop it there, would you? Or would you carry on?
MARCO CERESTE: Well Paul, you know, if we were to be successful in what we’re trying to do, we’re going to have an energy company for the city, probably most people’s rates could go down by a hundred, a hundred fifty pounds a year, if not more. And in the long term, if we’re supplying them with energy and we’re holding down their costs, the savings to the local taxpayer could turn out to be thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s an open cheque book for this study, is it?
MARCO CERESTE: No, it’s not an open cheque book for the study. But to be reasonable, it’s not likely to cost more than about seventy or eighty thousand pounds.
PAUL STAINTON: Ok. We shall wait and see what the study says. When’s it reporting back?
MARCO CERESTE: In the next couple of weeks.