Why planning departments must create energy positive communities

Traditionally, local authorities have not been regarded as key players in the country’s energy systems, but with national policy turning towards local generation, that’s set to change.

Carolyn McKenzie, Chair of the Energy Working Group for the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) lays out a new role for place.

Energy – how we create it, use it and save it – has been rising in public consciousness for quite some time now. While heated debate continues about the role of renewables vs fossil fuels, fracking and energy from waste, the shift from a reliance on national generation to more local generation and supply continues apace. It has to – according to EDF around two-thirds of our existing power stations are expected to close by 2030.

This presents both a significant challenge, in terms of how we will meet and manage our increasing demands for energy, and an opportunity for local authorities to step up. In a changing energy market, councils will become significant participants, brokering new partnerships and supporting commercial opportunities to deliver innovation. This new role will, inevitably, fall to ADEPT members as directors of place.

Until recently, energy generation was purely a linear process. Big power plants created energy, managed and distributed through the national grid – a one-way process. This has changed with more energy being generated from alternative sources such as waste, solar, wind and biomass creating more localised, smarter energy networks, and it is here that the role of place is pivotal.

I’m not alone in thinking place directors are critical to the future energy agenda. The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has recognised that local authorities are now key players in the future of energy generation, precisely because of their role as place-makers.

The emphasis on place arises because of the factors needed to create new energy generation systems – an alignment of land availability, infrastructure, transport, planning and innovation. As directors, we are responsible for asset management and so, inevitably, we will have a role in the development and siting of new charging points.

As large consumers, we have the ability to influence the supply chain. As customers, we can use our procurement processes to stimulate the market, motivating developers to look at local supply and not just lock into the national grid. We can work with district councils to ensure they incorporate alternative energy generation in local plans and planning.

We can become integral in bringing new methods and technologies to market, creating new income streams as we become both investors and suppliers. We hold land that can be used to drive innovation, and not being driven by profit, we are able to facilitate pilot schemes that the private sector is not able to initiate alone.

As the NIC understands, when combined, these responsibilities puts ADEPT members right in the forefront of energy policy and the clean growth agenda. In addition, it makes us key strategic partners for Government and BEIS.

We are unique in having relationships that span national government and regional public sector colleagues; we work closely with the private sector as our suppliers and as commercial partners, and with the not for profit sector, locally and nationally. Our ability to broker new partnerships and bring sector partners together is truly central to future energy generation.

For the larger local authorities, this is already happening, as they are obliged to participate in the Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme. But it is not only compulsion that is seeing councils have a greater involvement in energy. The need to do things differently, to find new ways of delivering services driven by budget pressures, not to mention the uncertainty of Brexit, is stimulating a drive to innovate and stimulate the green economy.

Where local authorities have long focused on their own estates, increasingly they are becoming involved in a more strategic approach across a bigger geography. In my own area, Kent, as part of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), have in partnership with Coast to Capital and Enterprise M3 produced a TRI-LEP Energy Strategy. We also lead on a cross SELEP project Low Carbon Across the South East (LOCASE), an £18mEU funded scheme, offering grants of up to £20000 to SMEs to be more energy resilient or participate in the clean growth sector

Kent is also working with private hire and hackney carriage taxi drivers providing match funding to enable them to make the switch to ULEV– improving air quality and reducing their exposure to congestion charges. In Cambridge, they are running a solar car-parking scheme both to generate energy and charge electric vehicles and buses, while supporting industry. West Sussex County Council have the largest subsidy-free solar farm.

As environmental concerns become mainstream, there is increasing support for the leadership that can be provided by local authorities. Alongside an understanding of the importance of local generation, there is a drive for more use of renewable technologies, we have even been asked to look at how sewage might be utilised.

For ADEPT, this is an essential new role in so many ways. From addressing fuel poverty and creating energy positive communities, implementing retrofit and energy efficiency to adopting new technologies and ways of working, we can have a real impact. Strategically, our position as place directors and partnership brokers has never been more vital.

Carolyn Mckenzie

Chair of ADEPT’s Energy Working Group.

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