Operators of both gas-to-grid and electrical AD plants are facing higher business rates after the UK government changed the way it calculates the rates assessments which forms the basis of rates bills, according to the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA). It highlighted analysis by Handel Rating Consultants – a leading expert specialising in the sector - which suggested the increase could be as much as 30% per annum for gas-to-grid plants and at least 20% for electrical combined heat and power (CHP) plants.
Many of these plants are operated by farmers – already facing steep rises in costs and bruised by inconsistent government policies. Recent data says there are now 702 anaerobic digestion sites in the UK, mostly located on farms. The government is continuing to support gas-to-grid plants and has ambitious targets to more than double capacity by 2030.
The tax in question - business rates - is something almost every UK business has to pay, with the charge being based on an estimate of the annual rental value of the premises. The tax brings in some £26bn to HM Treasury, with the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), part of HM Revenue and Customs, being responsible for setting rateable values and local councils for collecting the tax.
The changes to business rates have come about following the Chancellor’s recent announcement that the revaluation of business rates will go ahead as planned from April 2023. The new values were published following the Autumn Statement.
The rise in the rates bills of AD operators mirrors the rises faced by most other renewable power generators including onshore wind and solar and will add tens of millions of pounds to the bills and risks harming much needed investment.
Chris Huhne, chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) said: “This increase in business rates for AD is adding yet more strain onto an industry that is already facing rising supply chain and feedstock costs. The prospect that rates could increase by up to 30% is a blow for the sector when government should be supporting home-grown production of green electricity and gas. AD products – biofertilisers and bioCO2 as well – increase energy security and help meet climate targets.”
St Nicholas Court Farms in Kent run two gas-to-grid AD plants which are fed on maize and rye silage. They have seen their combined Rateable Value increase from £144,000 in 2017 to £810,000 in 2023. Owner Jim Pace said: “Such increases hardly paint a picture of a government wanting to encourage investment in renewables. It feels much more that we are being penalised for showing an entrepreneurial spirit. It really is quite depressing and worrying.”
Farmers and operators have the right to appeal to the Valuation Office Agency if they think their rates assessment is too high.
Chris Handel, managing director of Handel Rating Consultants, commented: “Understanding the operational risk and challenges of operating AD plants is key to challenging the rating valuations now being set. As a specialist in the renewables field, we understand these operational considerations and have already embarked on challenges to the VOA’s approach to their valuations of AD plants. If successful, these challenges will support the case for reductions in the new valuations of these plants from 1 April 2023.”