Thursday 3rd of May 2018 | Posted In: Buy and Sell, Comply, Generate, Use and Manage

25 years in energy and 50 years in farming

No, I’m not 75 years old! I was born on a farm (yes, I’m 50 in a month or so) and on 4 May 1993, I started work here. At the time, the company was known as Farm Electric Centre and I was only offered a two-year contract. I thought ‘it’ll do for now…’

By the time I started work at the Farm Electric Centre, the electricity industry had already been privatised but it was still very much ‘business as always’. The team consisted of fifteen people based here at Stoneleigh Park and we had adverts in the Farmers Weekly every week, self-funded research projects and offered free advice for farmers and growers, which were all paid for by the Regional Electricity Companies (RECs). Everybody paid pretty much the same price for electricity, which made working out running costs easy… the day rate was 8p/kWh and 2.7p/kWh night rate.

Over time, the emphasis changed to providing energy efficiency advice to help the RECs satisfy a licence condition. However, by the late 1990’s they started to realise they didn’t really have to do it as comprehensively as we did; each year, another one or two didn’t renew their contract with us and our staff numbers reduced to eight. So what better time to form a management buyout!

FEC Services Ltd was born in 2000. We were ever so creative back then, FEC being the link to Farm Electric Centre of old and Services because, as a name, it would let us do anything… ‘Was there really a future in energy consulting?!’

Both personally, and as a company, we benefitted greatly from our transformation into delivering contract research and development projects, most notably the Horticultural Development Council (now AHDB Horticulture), Milk Development Council and Potato Council (now AHDB Potatoes). I am grateful to the farmers and growers that opened their gates and let me ‘play around’ with energy projects ‘live’ in their businesses.

Throughout this time, renewable energy was interesting but commercially a non-starter. However, the energy market was now a free for all, along came the Wild West Energy Brokers and plenty still remain. We carved out a small (compared to many brokers) but loyal group of customers, who knew that we were one of the good guys.

As for the march of renewable energy… wow, what a change over the last 10 years. Solar panels produce next to no electricity and cost a fortune! Biomass boilers are dirty, unreliable and generally a pain in the …. Well not anymore (in most cases).

Even 10 years ago if somebody had said:

  • We would have 30 staff
  • Be selling electricity for >100MW of generation plant on the open market
  • Remotely turning electricity generating plants on/off that can burn £100’s per hour of natural gas
  • Have been involved in the accreditation of more than 700 renewable energy projects

I would have probably said something that cannot be published in this blog.

Even only five years ago, if somebody had said to me that the National Farmers Union (NFU) would buy us, ‘yeah right’ might have been my response (I have mellowed a bit over the years!). But here we are, with the NFU on board and seven months have already flown by since the sale.

Agriculture, horticulture and energy businesses have a lot in common:

  • Constant innovation
  • Never ending change and challenges
  • Dependent on many factors beyond their control
  • Everybody (it seems) has a view on what they should be doing
  • People would struggle somewhat without them

It would be wrong to say there has never been a dull day in my 25 years here, but there haven’t been many. Not a bad result for an ‘it’ll do for now’ job!