The National Trust is to spend up to £35m powering dozens of its historic properties with wood-fuelled boilers, water turbines and other alternative energy sources. The trust says the move will eventually save it more than £4m a year.
Wind turbines are noticeably absent from the plans. Sir Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the 4m member charity, is an outspoken critic, calling onshore turbine farms a blot on the landscape.
But the trust is ready to try almost every other type of low-carbon technology, as part of a deal it has struck with Good Energy that aims to sign up its members to the renewables supplier’s dual fuel tariff.
Good Energy will pay £40 a year for each customer the charity signs up. This money will help cover the £3.5m the trust is investing in five pilot projects this financial year.
If the pilot is successful, the trust plans to spend 10 times that amount on another 38 energy-hungry properties. The charity hopes to be generating 50 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.
Heating and powering its 300 major historic houses, office buildings, visitor centres and 360 holiday cottages currently costs the organisation more than £6m a year. Its green plans should allow the trust eventually to reduce its energy costs by more than £4m a year, said Patrick Begg, the charity’s rural enterprises director, releasing money for conservation work.
The trust already uses alternative power at some of its historic properties, including a few small wind turbines but Mr Begg said the new programme was the biggest green investment plan the charity had undertaken.
It did not include more turbines, because the trust had chosen renewable sources that were appropriate to “landscape sensitivities” and local environmental conditions, he said. Mr Begg “absolutely, categorically” denied that Sir Simon’s opposition to wind farms played any part in the decision.
Buildings that will move to green power include Plas Newydd in Wales, a Grade I listed mansion that uses more fuel oil for its heating than any other National Trust property – 53,000 litres in the past year.
Its old and inefficient oil boilers will be replaced by a marine source heat pump.
Biomass or woodchip fuelled boilers will be installed at Croft Castle in Herefordshire and Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds, while hydropower turbines will start powering the trust’s Craflwyn properties in north Wales and Stickle Ghyll in the Lake District.
The National Trust expects rising oil and gas prices will take its energy costs to £7.5m by 2020. But the renewables programme should reduce costs by £4.3m from 2019 and provide an expected 10 per cent return on investment, thanks to lower fuel costs and green subsidies.