Quitting the rat race sparked green dream

IT GENERATES its electricity from the sun, gets heat from the ground and draws its water from springs on the land.

Debbie Rippon, Opus Green's Chris Cassells and alpacas Pearson and Ochre

IT GENERATES its electricity from the sun, gets heat from the ground and draws its water from springs on the land.

Debbie and Paul Rippon’s alpaca farm in Northumberland may still need a bit of help from the national grid on cold, dark winter nights, but most of the time it’s pretty much self-sufficient.

The makeover for Barnacre Alpacas is the work of Newcastle’s Opus Green, which installed a 40-panel solar PV system and ground source heat pumps at the couple’s Elsdon farm.

Opus Green was set up in 2010 to offer help to businesses, homeowners and local authorities looking to install renewable technology.

“In our last home we had mains water and oil,” says Debbie Rippon.

“We were paying more than £2,000 a year for oil, heating and electricity, and we wanted this place to be a little more self-sufficient and a little greener.”

The 40 solar PV panels provide over 8,000 units of electricity per year, around twice the amount used by a typical household.

This means that the couple can sell unused energy back to the grid and build up an extra stream of income for the next 25 years. The electricity generated is also used to light the alpaca shed next to the house.

The ground source heat pump absorbs heat from the ground to power the underfloor heating and hot water.

As the farm is not within easy reach of mains water, the Rippons also have a system which stores water from three springs on their land and pumps it into the house.

Debbie said: “In the winter we’ll have to buy in some electricity, but the surplus we sell back to the grid during the day will hopefully offset that.

“We have no water bills and probably a very small electric bill.”

The Rippons arrived in the North East in 1996 when Paul got a job in a bank.

Debbie was working as a commercial manager for an insurance broker a few years back when she saw a Michael Palin documentary about South American alpaca farmers and set her heart on a change of career.

“I spent the next couple of years persuading Paul that we should get a farm and breed alpacas,” she said.

“I’d never had anything larger than a cat before, so I helped one of the local sheep farmers out with the lambing and did some husbandry courses.”

The current farm has 100 hill sheep and around 51 alpacas, some of which are bred and sold.

While Paul juggles the farm with a portfolio of other business interests, Debbie has carved out sidelines crafting products such as hats and scarves from alpaca fleeces to sell at www.barnacre-alpacas.co.uk as well as making fire bricks from alpaca droppings.

“I’d always wanted to work with animals. I liked the fact that alpacas weren’t culled for meat and that I could put some of my craft skills to use,” she explained.

“There’s no nine-to-five anymore, but I don’t miss the office in the slightest, not even on the really cold, frosty days. My colleagues find it funny that I was always the one with the colour co-ordinated shoes and bags, but I can’t remember the last time I put on nail varnish.”

Opus Green managing director Chris Cassells says he was happy to provide advice to the couple, who had become frustrated by the lack of assistance offered by other renewable firms.

“No one was really helping. It was a bit like wading through treacle for them. Paul called us up and asked if we could give him some ideas, as they were trying to do as many renewable things as possible.”

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