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Heating scheme leaves farmland in good heart

When considering energy infrastructure projects, such as a university biomass scheme, terms need to be agreed to mitigate any land damage. Mike Reid reports.

The University of St Andrews Biomass District heating Scheme had a budget of £25 million and is transforming the old Guardbridge paper mill. 

The resulting 21st century energy centre will use an estimated 17,000 tons of locally sourced wood annually to heat the university campus, reducing CO2 emissions by around 6,000 tons and creating a significant number of jobs. 

With Guardbridge being some distance from St Andrews, the challenge for the university was to install 10.6km of underground heat network pipes and other infrastructure across privately owned land. During the scheme, the university often was in hot water rather than benefitting from it! 

Galbraith was instructed to act on behalf of landowners who controlled more than two thirds of the route. We negotiated heads of terms for the legal agreement as well as commercial terms and working conditions for the installation of the infrastructure. We also agreed option payments, access agreements, additional working areas and storage compounds. 

The purpose of the agreement, from the landowner’s perspective, is to ensure all relevant commercial and other terms were agreed prior to entry and to agree working conditions that mitigate the impact of the scheme on the land. 

As with many schemes, not everything always went to plan and issues arose such as inadequate preparation of storage compound sites, works extending out with the working width, infrastructure not being buried deep enough to avoid interference with agricultural operations and access being taken across topsoil bunds. 

Due to the robust terms and conditions agreed, all these issues were able to be resolved before any significant long-term damage was caused to the land. this required appropriate supervision and professional experience to recognise the issues at an early stage where they deviated from the agreed conditions. 

The land is now coming back into full production and the impacts of the scheme have been mitigated. 

Renewable energy projects can provide significant benefit to communities and to Scotland’s climate change targets but it is important to ensure any schemes are carried out in an appropriate way to mitigate the impact on any land affected. It is critically important to agree all terms before access is granted and to take into account all aspects of any scheme.