Jo Smith

hydrogen powered winery CGI image
Land

Off-Grid farms flourishing in UK – here are two examples

From cucumbers to bees to wine to sheep, there are scores of off-grid farming start-ups in Britain today.

In Kent, permission has been granted for the UK’s first hydrogen-powered winery. The lot is now up for sale for £525,000. If built on the four-and-a-half acre site, to the west of the village of Egerton, the winery would be a UK-first, according to the listing on LoopNet.

In 2019, planning permission was granted to build a modern winery, complete with warehouse, wine shop, tasting room and accommodation. Planning documents from 2019 say that the building, once completed, would be run by an eight-person team, growing to 11, with visitors attending the site occasionally. In 2022, the green light was given to install a specialist hydrogen facility that would power the site all year round – said to be the first of its kind for a winery in the UK.

It would consist of solar panels, steel hydrogen storage tanks and other equipment that would, according to planning documents, allow the facility to be off-grid. However, the site remains empty and has now been put on the market for purchase alongside the granted planning permission. At £525,000 – a price of around £116,000 per acre, the listing describes it as “a freehold development opportunity for an ‘off grid’ viticultural warehouse with additional retail space, storage rooms and offices which could create the perfect self-sufficient package in an area of Kent that is well suited for wine production”.

At the other end of the scale, simplicity is at the heart of the system at Maes Yr Onn, an 81 hectare (200 acre) unit in South Wales.

Breeding mountain sheep is something Arthur Davies has been involved in from a young age. The farm is completely off grid, with power mostly coming from solar panels and a generator for backup, while water supply relies on rain. No forage is made on the farm and Mr Davies does not keep a tractor, with any machinery work needed carried out by contractors.

The  focus is the flock of 180 South Wales Mountain ewes, kept alongside 10 Blue Grey calves that are bought in annually to help manage grassland.  “The main aim is breeding rams, that is what it is all about for me,” Mr Davies says.  “About a dozen are sold in Nelson in the autumn, with excess lambs now sold direct to an abattoir in Caerphilly for Halal.”

The first draw of lambs is taken at the end of June and then weekly when they are fit.” Ewe lambs which meet the breed standard are retained, with others sold at sales or privately in September. “Most of the breed used to be white all over, more like a Talybont Welsh. However, today they are known for their red collars and beards. ”

“They are 50 per cent kemp and 50 per cent wool, then if …

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Community

Utility Company Bosses Disliked By 42% Of Their Staff

Its not just customers who dislike Energy and Utility companies with a passion. Company bosses in the Energy and Utility indsutries are amongst the most hated in British society – by their own employees.

A new survey finds that 42% of energy and utility employees don’t like their bosses – they are the fifth most hated in the UK, just behind Healthcare and Construction – both notorious for arduous working conditions.

Meanwhile the charity Citizens Advice says an estimated 600,000 people were forced to make the switch away from credit meters after racking up debt with their energy supplier in 2022, compared with 380,000 in 2021.

The charity fears a further 160,000 people could be switched by the end of winter if no further action is taken, and is calling for an immediate ban on the use of court warrants.

Any employees of Utility companies who are involved in action against vulnerable clients are encouraged to contact us in confidence at news@off-grid.net

Employee attitudes to UK Energy bosses were exposed in the study carried out by Reboot, which asked 3,445 people from 29 different sectors whether they liked their boss, and if not, what were the main reasons.

The survey found that ‘Being underpaid’, ‘micromanagement’ and ‘lack of communication’ are the most common reasons energy bosses are disliked.

The ten most common reasons for people hating their bosses (%):

being underpaid 66

micromanagement 46

lack of communication 43

ungrateful 27

bullying 24

generally annoying 24

lazy 15

conflicting personalities 12

condescending 12

incompetent 9

 

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Community

Is Fusion Energy the Net Zero equivalent of the Covid Vaccine?

Washington DC – US department of energy has trailed an announcement later today (Tuesday), from energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and under-secretary for nuclear security Jill Hruby to announce “a major scientific breakthrough” at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Physicists have since the 1950s sought to harness the fusion reaction that powers the sun, but this is the first time they had been able to produce more energy from the reaction than it consumes. The figures to be released later today reach a milestone known as net energy gain or target gain, which would “derisk” investment in fusion to achieve a reliable, abundant net-zero alternative to fossil fuels and conventional nuclear energy.

Boosters of nuclear fusion are already claiming that this announcement puts commercial fusion production less than 10 years away. There are fears it will provide an excuse for governments and industry to put current Net-zero plans on hold. Even on the most optimistic assumptions about climate change that would be too late to stop catastrophic warming.

Physicist Daniel Jassaby, who worked at the Princeton plasma lab, said a fusion reactor would be “far from perfect and in some ways close to the opposite”.

Writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists he said the process of nuclear fusion has the potential to produce radiation damage and radioactive waste – contrary to claims it is clean and safe.

He also says the “parasitic drain” of power needed to fuel fusion reactors renders means that they could “consume a good chunk of the very power that they produce”.

Fusion reactors have to be supplied with fuel made from fission reactors which he said implies a “perpetual dependence” on them.

And there is the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation through the “clandestine” production of plutonium-239.

In total there have been 21 commercial start-ups in fusion energy over the last five years, with a cascade of private funding over recent months following successes by the Livermore lab in 2021.

The Fusion Industry Association in Washington says there are currently five private companies pursuing inertial fusion of different forms, including the UK’s First Light, Focused Energy and Xcimer Energy in the US, and Marvel Fusion and XB11 in Germany.

“The advances being made point to market viability much sooner than expected, within the next 10 years,” said Todd Ditmire, co-founder of Focused Energy.

The $3.5bn National Ignition Facility at Livermore was primarily designed to test nuclear weapons by simulating explosions but has since been used to advance fusion energy research.

Achieving ignition involved collaborators at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Nevada National Security Site; General Atomics; academic institutions, including the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University; international partners, including the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.

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Community

Europe faces winter of rolling blackouts and energy squabbles

European countries facing energy shortages will be bidding against each other for scarce energy supplies at times of peak demand this winter.

Leadership failure by the EU Directorate means there is no system to “share the pain” between countries when the Ukraine-led energy shortage bites. Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has warned Europe could face up to 10 difficult winters as a result of the standoff.

The UK government is considering a “revenue cap” on electricity generators in line with a similar move by the European Union. The UK budget announcement this week will contain a tax of 40 per cent on the “excess returns” produced by the sector above a certain price per megawatt hour, according to people close to the discussions. That threshold has not yet been decided. Energy prices for a typical UK family will have tripled between 2021 and 2023

The head of France’s electricity grid warned yesterday that his country is at risk of electricity shortages this winter, as problems with its nuclear power stations mount. Xavier Piechaczyk, president of the Reseau Transport d’Electricite (RTE), said it is in a state of “state of particular vigilance”,  in a warning that also raises questions for Britain’s power supplies this winter.

National Grid in the UK is hoping to be able to import power at times of peak demand if gas shortages mean not enough electricity is being generated domestically but it will be competing with every other energy provider on the continent to do so.

France typically exports electricity to other countries but is less able to do so given half of its nuclear power stations, which are owned and run by EDF, are currently offline, either for maintenance or as a result of corrosion problems. The widespread shutdowns add to the strain on the energy system caused by gas shortages, creating the risk that Britain and Germany will struggle to meet needs at peak times this winter. National Grid has warned there could be blackouts in the UK.

RTE is publishing a forecast of electricity supplies up to four days in advance, known as Ecowatt, to try and help manage the system. If supplies are looking tight, it will launch a “red alert” calling on users to cut consumption.

Early last week, French power prices for January surged above €1,000 per megawatt hour after EDF cut its electricity output for the fourth time this year. Prices have since fallen back, though remain far higher than in neighbouring countries.

Mr Piechaczyk said he was taking a “cautious” approach to nuclear plant availability in RTE’s forecasts, Bloomberg reported, given the risk of maintenance taking longer than planned.

France is one of several countries that trades electricity with Britain, helping balance out supplies on both sides. In its winter outlook published in October, Britain’s National Grid warned it may have to impose rolling power cuts

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Judges Gavel
Energy

US Power Grid Closes in on Debtors

The Washington Post reports an unprecedented rise in arrears owed to Utility companies by America households struggling in the pandemic.  Those bills are about to fall due. And the Utilities are planning to collect.

There was a moratorium on Utility bills, but it has now been lifted in most states and now only DC and 14 States still protect consumers from Utility debt collection.

In the DC, area, Fairfax Water is “considering” shutting off service for nonpayment. There has been more than a sevenfold increase in unpaid bills since before the pandemic.

Nationally, As of Dec. 31, Americans owed their gas and electric utilities an estimated $32 billion, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which represents state directors of low-income energy aid programs. In the District of Columbia, NEADA estimates that almost 63,000 households owed about $50 million, while more than 400,000 in Maryland owed $251 million.

“We’ve never seen numbers like this before,” said Mark Wolfe, NEADA’s executive director. “The question is, how do we keep families connected to the grid and in their homes when they don’t have income coming in? . . . We’ve never had a situation where this many people haven’t paid a bill in more than nine months, and we still have a long time to go.”

Washington Gas plans to begin sending shutoff notices to unresponsive Maryland customers after March 31, which could lead to disconnections starting around Memorial Day, the utility said. About 80,000 accounts in the Washington region were more than three months past due as of Dec. 31 — a 30 percent increase from a year earlier.

A coalition of more than 600 racial justice, labor, environmental and religious groups have urged President Biden to declare a national ban on utility cutoffs. The administration recently extended a federal moratorium on evictions through March and proposed $25 billion in rental assistance and $5 billion for home energy and water costs as part of its $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package.

One economist estimated that residential electricity use spiked 10% on average between April and July 2020, leading to households spending nearly $6 billion on extra usage.

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Land

The Off-Grid Solution to Social Distancing (says Reuters)

Couple living alone in wilderness for decades -REUTERS SPECIAL REPORT-

SOMEWHERE NEAR RESERVE, New Mexico, June 5 (Reuters) – To leave society behind was a wedding vow Wendell and Mariann spoke only to each other. It was a solemn one, though, and to save for it Mariann spent only $66 on her bridal gown. Once they were married on that winter day 35 years ago, they just started driving.

Wendell and Mariann Hardy had lived most of their lives in the fast-growing southwestern city of Tucson, Arizona. But each was drawn to solitude. Mariann began distance-running into the mountains on high desert trails. Even before they met, both relocated to log cabins up on Mt. Lemmon, the 9,157-foot peak in the Catalinas range that overlooks Tucson. Still, city types came up to party there on the weekends. It wasn’t isolated enough.

Wendell took a job installing windows at Mariann’s cabin. Shy at first, the two got to talking about how they weren’t made for crowded places. One afternoon, Mariann offered him gin and tonic. Just how far, Wendell asked her, would she be willing to go?

In search of solitude

The question, open-ended and thrilling, marked the beginning of a union between two people who sought solitude – and instead found a life alone together.

Decades later, a pandemic has thrust the concept of social distancing into the daily lexicon and lives of Americans. As the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 tops 100,000, a new reality has set in: With few effective treatments and no vaccine, maintaining distance from others in society is the only sure method of stopping the spread.

Few people are as accustomed to the rigors, or rewards, of sheltering-in-place as Wendell, 75, and Mariann, 69. Soon after their 1985 church wedding in Tucson, they started exploring the wildest reaches of the American West for a place to be on their own.

A jack of all trades, including driving race cars, Wendell had a knack for fixing up vehicles like their salvaged pickups and a 1978 Jeep. They’d load one up and scout out Arizona’s parched borderlands to the south, and its ponderosa pine forests up north.

You can tell something by how couples sit on bench seats in old pickup trucks. Some sit apart, at either window. Others, like Wendell and Mariann, sit close together, behind the steering wheel.

Their search ended in Catron County, New Mexico. It is among the most rural in the United States, bigger than some U.S. states. Elk outnumber people 4 to 1. Traffic is so sparse, the county doesn’t have a single stoplight. Some children wait for the school bus in wood and wire cages. These serve as a precaution, against the wolves.

Miles down a washed-out dirt road along the San Francisco River, they saw 25 acres for sale. The $40,000 stretch of land, 6,000 feet high and zoned …

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Land

Rewilding Britain

As we contemplate the ecological wreckage from the last century of unfettered growth in Britain, there is a mounting desire throughout the UK and all advanced Western economies to reverse some of the processes we set in place in the early 20th century.

One goal is to turn about 4 per cent of Britain’s land over to nature this century. That is 1m hectares by 2100, the equivalent of 8 big land-holdings per year. “Realistically, a lot of it will be in Scotland,” says Alastair Driver of the charity Rewilding Britain. Anders Holch Povlsen, the Danish fashion billionaire, is seeking to rewild an estate of 89,000 acres in the Highlands.

In theory, the space exists, even in a country as densely populated as the UK. Grouse moors cover 1.3m hectares, according to Rewilding Britain. Golf courses — which cater to a declining clientele — cover up to 150,000 hectares, according to an analysis by the FT.

The most significant potential is farmland. Nearly three-quarters of the UK is farmed. Without subsidies, 42 per cent of farms would have made a loss, according to the National Audit Office. In marginal areas, such as the uplands, a lot of farmers are “seeing the writing on the wall”, says Driver.

“I started off [three years ago] knocking on people’s doors. Now I’m just trying to cope with demand,” says Driver,. He only deals with projects of at least 1,000 acres — of which he has found at least 20 in the UK.

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Community

Rich seek out deserted estates, private islands and luxury apartments

While some of the world’s wealthiest reserve themselves “bargain” apartments in central London for up to £22.5 million, other realty agents representing large landowners say they have been flooded with enquiries from the Middle East and Asia’s wealthiest seeking an investment that can serve as both a bolt-hole from the raging pandemic and a long-term investment.

Mansions and apartments in ultra-desirable London locations like Islington, Kensington and Notting Hill are being shown remotely by agents via 360-degree online tours, allowing prospective buyers to view the property without leaving their home.

Among the properties currently available to view include a six-bedroom Belgravia mansion, on the market with Beauchamp Estates for £22.5million, and apartments in Borough, south London, from Galliard Homes, which are available from £1.3million.

Jeremy Gee, managing director of Beauchamp Estates received interest from buyers from the UK, Middle East and Far East who are looking for a secure investment amid the ongoing stock market crisis. The same is true in the more rarified world of private islands, and while some of these idylls sell for up to US$100 million, others go for as little as US$55,000, a fraction of the cost of the average Hong Kong apartment.

Edward de Mallet Morgan, a Partner with Knight Frank’s International Super-Prime Sales Team in London who specialises in private-island sales, said there had been a clear uptick in interest since the first reported coronavirus cases emerged in Wuhan, China, last year.

“For many who are already interested, the current world situation has meant that their resolve, intention and motivation to find a safe and protected haven for themselves and their families has only increased,” he said.

“As well as a financial investment, a private island would certainly be an investment in health and well-being and in very special family time. For some buyers, this is the key to real wealth – health and happiness and the family.

“For Asian buyers, there seems to be a driver, not only for the best and most beautiful, but to acquire such properties in an environment which is unpolluted and as pure as possible.”

While the coronavirus has spurred buyers to look all over the world, there is particular curiosity about parts of the Americas.

“There’s been a definite uptick of interest in freehold islands in recent months, especially in the Caribbean and Central America,” said Chris Krolow, CEO of Ontario-based Private Islands Inc and the owner of Gladden Private Island, a bonsai resort on the Barrier Reef in Belize that rents for US$3,695 per night.

“Asian buyers are careful investors, looking for a hideaway for their own use as well as somewhere that will bring in money at a later date, whether they develop it or resell it. And a private island is a definite ego trip too.”

Krolow’s company lists nearly 700 properties for sale, ranging from the 2.5-hectare Half Island in Nova Scotia, …

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23,000 Apply for Job on Deserted Island

When more than 23,000 people from around the world applied for two job vacancies, an Irish couple proves that working on an uninhabited island is a dream come true for a lot of people.

Alice Hayes and Billy O’Connor are the owners of a cafe and three cottages on Great Blasket Island off the coast of Ireland.

Two weeks ago, the couple made a post on Facebook advertising two summer-long management positions.

The post said successful applicants would be required to live on the remote island without electricity or hot showers from the start of April to the end of October.

Initially, the entrepreneurs were concerned no one would apply, but the post soon went viral, and was covered by international news outlets and travel platforms such as Lonely Planet.

“We were concerned we would not find anyone willing to leave their job, pack their bags and move to a windswept island with no electricity or hot water in the middle of the Atlantic,” O’Connor said. But it turns out, the remote requirement seems to have been the biggest draw for applicants.

“I suppose people just want to disconnect from the rush of everyday life and get off the grid,” O’Connor said.

“We’ve had coverage in the most unlikeliest places,” Hayes said, speaking from his deserted island.

“We’ve had applications in languages we can’t even recognise.

“We’ve received applications from places like Iran, Argentina, Finland, Mexico, everywhere really,” she added.

Apart from unexpected locations, Hayes and O’Connor were also surprised at the personal stories they received in the process, including “a lovely application from a 79-year-old and 83-year-old couple”.

As of yesterday, the couple said they have responded to about 1,000 applicants, but don’t expect to be able to respond to every candidate.

Hoping to find people who “understand and appreciate the island’s rich literary heritage and history” — one cottage belonged to celebrated Irish author Peig Sayers — O’Connor said they hope to meet some finalists before making their decision.

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People

HAB Land Ltd goes bust – Grand Designs presenter walks away

Kevin McCloud, presenter of Channel 4 TV’s Grand Designs series, fronted money-raising for an eco-property developer, and then resigned as a director 18 months before the company went bust this week.

The picture is still unclear because there is a web of interlocked shareholdings, but many small investors have lost money and McCloud and his colleagues are continuing to trade through different vehicles.

Both building projects in Oxford and Winchester are controlled by two subsidiary companies – HAB at Lovedon Fields Limited and Hab at The Acre Limited – neither of which are part of the proposed liquidation.

‘The directors of these entities continue to explore options to enable these developments to be completed,’ the spokesperson continued.

‘HAB Housing Limited is also unaffected by the liquidation proceedings.’

Mr McCloud is a significant shareholder in the HAB network of companies, remaining a director of HAB Housing and owning 20 per cent of HAB Land’s parent company, BAH Restructuring.

TV star and developer McCloud had already come under fire from a city councillor in Winchester where his project ran into difficulties almost a year ago, as community facilities promised as part of a development are yet to be completed.

That comes as investors in the Happiness Architecture Beauty (HAB) housing venture, launched by the Grand Designs host, voiced frustration at warnings they could lose up to 97% of their cash.

Happiness Architecture Beauty

HAB Land Limited was founded in 2014 to acquire development land for building projects at sites in Oxford and Winchester.

HAB Land Finance plc was subsequently incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the company in 2016, in order to raise finance to fund the real estate activities of HAB Land through Mini Bond Instruments.

*** Did you invest in HAB Land, Hab Housing, or a related company? Do you live in a HAB development? Email news@off-grid.net, call 07971543703***

The first reports of the possible demise of the McCloud empire came from the Hampshire Chronicle, a local paper reporting on broken promises at the Lovedon Fields development in Kings Worthy seven months ago, and from local ward councillor Jackie Porter, cabinet member for built environment and wellbeing at Winchester City Council, who said works were going “very, very slowly,” and were “nowhere near finished.”

“We want to see this site completed. We chose it because it had great public facilities. The residents of Kings Worthy are being let down.

“[Mr McCloud] had good intentions but it was naive. This project was much more complicated than it was meant to be.”

The developer HAB Housing agreed – as part of the planning approval – its location in Eversley Park would double in size. The land would then be given to Kings Worthy Parish Council to protect it from future development.

Chaos in Winchester

The site, off Lovedon Lane in Kings Worthy, was given planning approval in September 2015, and …

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Ultimate RV

The Taxa range of RVs are specificaly designed for off-gridders

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