WARRINGTON Borough Council is set to become the first local authority in the UK to have its electricity needs met entirely by solar power.
The council’s ruling executive board has approved the setting up of a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) – a kind of subsidiary company with the council as sole shareholder – to build a 131 acre solar farm in Hull.
Built on low grade land, the solar farm will produce enough electricity (25.7MWp) to meet the council’s entire annual electricity needs and generate savings of up to £2million pounds on the council’s energy costs.
The £21million investment in the Hull site comes after a similar deal to buy a site in Gloucestershire fell through due to local grid connection issues.
A second SPV will be established to facilitate the £37.5million purchase of a second solar farm, this one a 198 acre site near York. Again being built on low quality land, the site will produce enough electricity (34.7MWp) to power more than 10,000 homes with profits to be ploughed back into essential public services in Warrington.
Both projects are being delivered in partnership with multi-national sustainable energy firm Gridserve and will save a combined 25,000 tonnes of carbon per year. Full development rights and grid connection permissions are already in place at both sites.
Councillor Russ Bowden, deputy leader and executive board member for corporate finance said: “This is good news for local council taxpayers and good news for the environment.
“Our total investment will be £58.7million, but we will own the assets and generate an estimated 30 year operating surplus of £150million. This is income that will go straight back into delivering essential public services. The deal also gives us security of energy supply and control of our own energy prices.”
Warrington Borough Council already boasts a successful track record of investment in, and promotion of, renewable energy. Locally, the council installed solar PV (photovoltaic) on 3,000 Golden Gates properties and has developed solar bond investments that local authorities nationwide have invested in. In 2015 the council led on the structuring of a solar bond investment with Thurrock and Newham councils, which involved the purchase of the UK’s second largest solar farm (60Mw) in Swindon.
Cllr Bowden added: “Warrington has experienced government cuts of more than £122 million since 2010 and we must save an additional £46 million by 2020. Austerity isn’t over and if we are to continue to deliver essential services we have to explore different ways of funding them.
“Our previous investments have been very successful, generating a commercial return to the council, creating employment opportunities and reducing fuel poverty. Not only will these investments do the same, both sites have enormous potential for second phase development – and that means more money coming into Warrington.”
Both deals have been subject to rigorous risk analysis and independent review by energy sector specialists. The Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has identified the council’s business model as being prudent, commercially viable and of high investment grade.
The Hull site is expected to be generating electricity by summer 2019, with York following in the autumn.