MACKIE’S of Scotland has taken a big step forward in its drive to become self-sufficient in renewable energy by investing millions of pounds in a solar energy farm.

The ice-cream, crisps and chocolate producer, which introduced its first wind turbine a decade ago, has installed nearly 7,000 of solar PV (photovoltaic) panels on the family’s land in Aberdeenshire.

The solar farm, which goes “live” on Wednesday, has the capacity to generate 1.8MW (megawatts) of renewable energy – enough to make four million litres of ice-cream.

Mackie’s has also installed a fourth, 500kW (kilowatts) wind turbine and a bio-mass energy plant for heating and water as part of an investment worth around £4 million.

The investment, funded by a term loan from Bank of Scotland, is the latest in a series of steps Mackie’s has taken to meet its energy needs from renewable technology on its land.

The family firm, headed by managing director Mac Mackie, has already got 175kw of solar panels installed on farm building roofs, and three other wind turbines. Between them, the four turbines have a total capacity of 3MW.

Mr Mackie, who first began to think of solar power a decade ago, explained that the farm now has complementary sources of renewable energy, with the solar panels addressing a deficit when weather conditions were calm.

He said: “It is obviously a big investment. On a windy day we have got plenty of power, but on a sunny day with no wind we don’t have a heap of power. This works nicely with the wind.”

Mackie’s, which enlisted Glasgow-based Absolute Solar and Wind to design, supply and install the solar panels, can now producer 10.5m kWh (kilowatt hours) of green electricity per year.

Of the total, 40 per cent will be used on the farm, with the balance supplied into the grid via Good Energy, a renewable energy supplier. Mr Mackie said it is the company’s “dream to become wholly self-sufficient” in renewable energy, but said this is not currently possible because “renewable energy is really not storable at the moment”.

Asked to comment on the controversy over the UK Government scaling back support for renewable projects, which prompted the Scottish Government to call for a “flexible grace period” for projects already in the planning system, Mr Mackie said the subsidies have been “very important”.

He said: “With solar, for instance, it’s getting cheaper all the time. The subsidies are good to get people going earlier, and get some momentum in renewables. Maybe it’s not too far off when solar panels will need no subsidy at all.

“The tariff has been dropping significantly year after year after year. But people can still justify putting them in at the moment.”

Mackie’s pursuit of green energy self-sufficiency comes with the company on track to increase turnover by 10 per cent to around £12m in its current financial year.

Its long-term aim is to lift turnover to £20m by 2020.

In spite of poor summer weather, sales of its ice-cream are up 10 per cent on last year, boosted by national listings for its best-selling traditional and honeycomb brands in three of the country’s biggest supermarket chains.

Meanwhile, the company is planning a “big investment” in a new chocolate factory, which would have the capacity to increase current production “ten-fold”.

Mackie’s crisps, which the company produces under a joint venture with Taypack, are now available in 25 countries. Mr Mackie highlighted “huge opportunities” in territories such as Asia, Canada and the US. “Our business plan aspiration is to hit £20m of turnover by 2020,” he said. “That’s partly why are we looking at all these new products and export potential.”