Thursday, November 13, 2008

Renewable Energy

That was the subject of tonight's Environment Partnership meeting, and very interesting it was too. This particular partnership is one of very committed people, some of them appointed by the council and others from organisations large and small with an interest in the environment. So there are residents alongside representatives of industry and not-for-profit organisations, charities and council officers along with just two councillors - the cabinet member for the environment and me as chair of the Environment committee.
Everything discussed is very practical so tonight we heard about efforts being made by the council to reduce energy use as well as to use more renewables - simple things like putting draught excluder round windows and turning the thermostat down a degree in council buildings. Bigger things like having street lights that dim in the middle of the night so that energy is reduced while still keeping the borough's streets safe. Exciting things like assessing whether solar thermal panels can contribute to heating the swimming pools in the borough, whether the heat generated by cooling the ice rink can be used to warm the water in the swimming pool or heat the theatre in the Forum. Projects that have already happened like fitting a ground source heat pump into Conyers school as part of building a new extension and incorporating them into new primary schools. But we also heard of insoluble problems - the new primary school which can't put in such a pump because of the web of utilities running under the site, and the grey water recovery system which was installed in two schools in County Durham and still doesn't work. It's assumed there's a design fault but we can't keep a school on hold until it's resolved so we aren't installing one. I can't help but feel that there's something wrong here - over 50 years ago a relative in rural Eire built a new house and because there was no piped water on the farm he put a collection tank on the kitchen roof and collected rainwater to flush the toilet and wash floors etc. No fancy pumping mechanisms, just simple systems, and it worked for many years. It meant that only one trip a day was needed to the well to collect drinking water. If he could do it then surely it's not beyond present day developers?
Wind turbines occupied part of the discussion, with the consensus being now that only turbines of 100KW or greater are worth erecting for electricity production. Anything smaller is really an educational tool which sometimes produces a bit of power. We have a school in the borough which got planning permission over a year ago to erect a large turbine but then found that the only company which manufactures them at the price we had been quoted only sell them in blocks of 10 or more! Sadly, 10 turbines would leave no room at all for playing fields or the school building, so a big rethink is going on!!
We heard about the efforts of a private sector business to move toward renewable energy which needs a very long term view in a time of economic downturn. How does one persuade the shareholders to look at the 50 year life span of a building when they're used to thinking in terms of a 2 year maximum for a return on investment?
There was much discussion about ways in which people could work together, ways in which the council could offer a lead and a very positive feel at the end of the meeting that there were ways forward.
Just the sort of meeting that I enjoy being part of - a common aim and a determination to share ideas on how to get to the goal.

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