Farmers to help generate wind power for the High Street

Ken Hunter
Ken Hunter

One of the UK’s largest independent fashion retailers, Mackays Group, which trades as M&Co, is talking to farmers and landowners in a bid to secure its continued growth by becoming the first High Street chain to secure full control of its future electricity consumption.

The move will see all of M&Co’s stores, in nearly 300 towns across the UK, powered by renewable sources supplied by its own renewable energy sources. To ensure total control and long-term supply, Mackays Group has launched a wholly-owned subsidiary business, MEG Renewables, which will invest in, develop and operate small to medium-scale wind turbine sites across the UK. MEG Renewables will be working with farmers and landowners in order to develop suitable wind turbine sites.

MEG Renewables is led by managing director, Neil McGeoch. A well-known beef farmer with a herd of 130 Simmentals on his farm in Ayrshire, Neil recognises the pressures on farming and landowning businesses, particularly in view of the likely changes to the Single Farm Payment Scheme from 2014, and believes that MEG renewable offers the right approach and flexibility to help landowners diversify their income streams.

According to Ken Hunter, business development manager at MEG Renewables, the response to date from farmers and landowners has been encouraging. He said:

"Approaches are being made by lots of individuals and organisations promising all sorts of deals, but our experience is that farmers and landowners like the idea of working with a name they know and a business that has been around for a long time. The fact that MEG Renewables will retain full responsibility for the life of the turbines is a further plus point.

"As an independent and privately-funded developer, MEG Renewables provides the risk capital to progress projects through each of the development stages, with no requirement for any expenditure by the landowner. We are confident that we will be able to progress sites across the UK to meet our goal of supplying M&Co with all its electricity needs from renewable sources."

Mackays Group’s strategy is different to that adopted by many other retailers, where supply contracts are generally in place with third party windfarm owners. The MEG Renewables’ model is to develop and own smaller sites of typically one to three turbines, with a combined capacity of between 500 kilowatt and 5 megawatt. The output from these turbines will be secured directly by M&Co.

With MEG Renewables project managing sites, rather than just financing them, the arrangement will also mean that the M&Co business will have continuity of supply throughout the 25 years or more of a site’s operational lease.

Duncan Black, Energy Manager for M&Co, sees this move as beneficial on two fronts. He said:

"As well as providing a secure source of renewable electricity, in line with our desire to minimise our carbon footprint, owning our own wind turbines provides a valuable hedge against any future upward movements in electricity prices."

MEG Renewables has estimated it will need to develop up to 20 megawatts to service all its stores. This approach to develop smaller sites is in keeping with MEG Renewables strategy to maintain a broad portfolio of renewable energy assets.

Recognising the often lengthy lead time involved from when a potential site is identified, to the turbine blades finally generating, MEG Renewables is interested not only in ’greenfield’ development opportunities, but also in sites which have ceased to progress.

Ken Hunter explains:

"Quite often sites are identified but then stall, due to planning or investment issues for example – MEG Renewables is prepared to explore these opportunities on a case-by-case basis."