I was one of the contributors to the recent Centre for European Policy Studies report ‘For a Future Sustainable Competitive and Greener EU Budget’. The report came out in favour of restructuring the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) whilst predicting that such restructuring would prove contentious. All parties to the current budget negotiations are failing to address two core issues: the CAP is there to provide some food security to Europe and some stability to farm incomes. The two tend to go hand in hand.
With respect to farm incomes, the question that needs to be asked is ‘are there any other revenue-generating activities which farmers could undertake and which would offer reasonably stable incomes?’.
As it happens there are. Feed-in tariffs (FITs) for renewable energy are a feature of the European energy landscape. However, projects involving, for example, wind or ground-based photovoltaics tend to be held up by lengthy and tortuous planning processes.
Taking the UK as an example, the recently enacted FIT could generate incomes for farms in the range Euro 100,000 to Euro 200,000 with payback in terms of capital within 3 -4 years (based on the erection of two 250kW wind turbines). A lengthy UK planning process is slowing things down despite generalised political support.
Interestingly, the country that is least keen on CAP reform – France – is also the one that recently made it even more difficult to erect wind turbines. They now go through the same planning process as petro-chemical plants (no, I’m not joking).
In summary, renewable energy coupled to FITs could provide a stable income stream for farmers. They could continue to farm the land and provide food for Europe whilst also helping meet European targets for renewable energy.
It would be nice to think that politicos could, for once, pull their heads out of the sand and recognise that a win-win situation is staring them in the face.