When APSE launched its research publication ‘The virtuous green circle: creating a revolving fund for local authority solar energy’, in Birmingham recently, I was impressed by the number of authorities present who were making progress with delivering projects in this area of renewable energy.
Many have woken up to the financial opportunity renewables create in a time of financial famine in local government, whilst also being aware of the policy necessity to reduce carbon usage by becoming more energy efficient.
One concern I do have however, is that this seems to be occurring on an ad-hoc basis rather than being part of a wider well thought through strategic response to climate change. Our research seeks to address this by outlining an approach that makes the investment in renewables self financing in the long term and which ensures that early stage projects are part of a wider programme that maximises the economic and environmental wellbeing for local communities.
Whilst many may have the aspiration, not everyone will achieve the outcome of being the greenest authority in the UK, although that shouldn’t stop the pursuit of that ambition. If Council’s are serious with their attempt then they need to have a coherent strategy that outlines their approach to renewables in the short, medium and long terms. The added incentive is that this can help alleviate service cuts and create new or alternative employment.
As a result of the generous financial incentives offered by Government, many have focused on short term initiatives around solar PV, as it doesn’t need planning permission, can be erected fairly quickly and starts generating a return almost immediately. This can then be used to fund further phases of the strategy such as wind turbines, which are more mid-term concepts, as they do create planning issues. Longer term projects such as District Heating Networks can be identified and worked into the corporate and asset management strategies of the Council.
Whilst I have not mentioned electric fleet, biomass or the renewable heat incentive all of these can be incorporated within such a strategy. Local authorities need to look at what natural resources and physical assets they have at their disposal and then decide how best they can use these to create economic benefit for their area over an extended period of time.
It’s not very often these days that local government gets the opportunity to be virtuous about something whilst making money from it, let’s make the most of it.