An Islandmagee dairy farmer who has lodged a planning application for 230 solar panels says diversification is integral to farmers’ survival.
Alan Hill’s proposal for the renewable energy source near Middle Road in Islandmagee would be the second environmentally-friendly initiative he has taken at the site to support his existing farm business, after previously installing a wind turbine.
The local farmer says that the historically low rates for milk prices mean he is looking for sustainable ways to produce power for his farm.
“Dairy farming is making no money,” he told the Times.
“The dairy industry is in an awful state, farmers are getting the price for their milk that they would have 25 years ago but we are paying expenses at today’s levels.
“Diversification is necessary to survive as the milk price is awful and farmers can’t make ends meet with the price down to 19 pence a litre and the cost of production sitting at 23-24 pence.
“I would like to see a fairer price for milk.
“We are not asking to be millionaires but we are working 80 hours a week and we aren’t covering our losses.”
Alan says he was first inspired to explore renewable energy by the wind howling around his house.
“At night you think that the roof is going to blow off,” he laughed.
“I thought, ‘Why not use something that’s so powerful?’”
“However, when the wind drops the electricity generated is uneven so just to level it out I thought it would be a good idea to get the solar panels.
“I am hoping that when the wind drops the solar power will kick in.”
While Alan is a fan of renewable energy, he says that it is “not common” for farmers to use wind and solar power to run their farms.
“I am looking to become an eco-friendly farmer,” said Alan.
“It will take quite a bit of money to buy the solar panels and then 10 years to pay them off.
“The panels would go around the bottom of the wind turbine and they would take up a quarter or a fifth of an acre.
“There has to be creativity in farming and I don’t know why more farmers don’t do it.”
The proposed solar panels would be held on a south facing ground-mounted framework.
The proposal has received no objections from Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport, NI Water, the MOD, or MEA Borough Council’s Environmental Health Service.