Straid business wins top energy award

Noel Hynes (left) presenting Patricia and Tom Gilbert with their award. INNT 16-801CON

Noel Hynes (left) presenting Patricia and Tom Gilbert with their award. INNT 16-801CON

A local business has been awarded a renewable energy award at a recent ceremony which celebrated environmentally friendly initiatives.

Ballylagan Organic Farm in Straid, which is run by husband and wife team Tom and Patricia Gilbert, picked up the Best Energy Saving SME award at the Action Renewables event.

The business, which has been involved in environmentally friendly initiatives for over 25 years was shortlisted for the award alongside Harvey Group PLC and Ocean View Chalets.

The couple said: “Much of the food we sell and serve to our customers is produced on the farm and in recent years we have also sought to become as energy self-sufficient as possible. In addition to the farming enterprises we have a farm shop, tea room and guesthouse - all contributing to our energy demand.

“The tea room and guesthouse are located in a 19th century farm house which was completely renovated in 2011. Sustainable methods of construction and assembly included reuse of salvaged slates and draught proofing of existing timber sliding sash windows. Opportunity was taken to thermally upgrade existing walls, roof and floors to meet current technical standards and to ensure

longevity of use and comfort to building users. Additionally the building’s heating and hot water supply utilises an air source heat pump.”

Now in their seventh year, the prestigious Action Renewables Awards were sponsored by Vayu Energy, with additional sponsor support from Tughans Solicitors and the Department of Environment, who joined this year’s awards in a show of support for the local renewables industry.

Winners were chosen by an independent judging panel of industry experts and leaders in the renewables field across Northern Ireland including Carol Forster, Operations Manager, NIEL; Jim Kitchen, Director, Sustainable NI; Dr Robin Curry, Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering; and Andy McCrea, Renewable Energy Consultant and announced at a gala luncheon on Friday 31st March at Titanic Belfast.

The couple added: “In November 2011, to coincide with the opening of the tea room we completed the installation of a micro hydroelectric scheme. This is rated 15 kWh and in just over four years has generated 205,000 kW. This project was able to utilise some existing infrastructure since there had been a working corn mill on the farm up until the 20th century. Water is extracted from the Bryantang Water above the old weir which was improved to facilitate fish passage. To increase the head and therefore power output we installed a 450 metre long pipe from the intake structure to the turbine house, rather than use the open headrace. However, some flow is retained in this channel so that both it and the mill pond remain as environmental and landscape assets on the farm.

“In 2014 we installed solar panels on an outbuilding that are rated 6.12 kWh and this means that we can generate our own electricity come rain or come shine. Our third source of energy generation on the farm is home-produced timber which supplies the four wood burning stoves in the tea room and guesthouse plus those in our private accommodation. To date our timber has come from fallen trees, but in looking to the future we have recently planted 6 acres of mainly ash for coppicing purposes. The oldest section of planting is coming into its fifth growing season.”

The Gilbert’s, who are proud of their achievements in sustainable farming and the production of renewable energy, are encouraging customers to avail themselves of the 1km farm walk through the woodland and past the hydro intake.

Over 1,200 customers have now signed up for the Ballylagan Organic Farm weekly email update (www.ballylagan.com/past-weekly-updates) and there is an increasing number of people who follow their story on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Dominic McLarnon from the Ulster University Jordanstown was also a runner up in the Outstanding Award for Work in the Renewable Energy Sector in Northern Ireland.