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Investing now to save in the future

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 16

Sheryl French, project director, energy investment unit, at Cambridgeshire County Council, explains how the national RE:FIT programme has enabled the local authority to invest in energy-efficient measures to deliver future savings.

Just over two years ago, Cambridgeshire County Council secured £15m of investment for energy-saving retrofits to improve the condition of its schools and corporate buildings across the county. 

The estimated potential of the scheme was to deliver 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 savings over the lifetime of the project, and secure in excess of £1.3m a year in savings. This came at a time when the local authority was expected to make significant savings over this Parliament. 

Sheryl French, project director, energy investment unit, at Cambridgeshire County Council, said the local authority needed to take a leadership role in how it could make sustainable savings for the future, especially as research indicated that if the county council invested in renewable energy it could, potentially, have 30% of its energy needs covered locally by 2030. 

“We looked at our schools portfolio and decided that the most polluting buildings we had in our ownership were the schools. It was the age, quality of the buildings. We needed to do a significant retrofit programme on schools,” she said. 

During the procurement process, the local authority started looking at different procurement and framework options, which included the RE:FIT programme. 

“At the time, we concluded that RE:FIT was the most flexible and appropriate for our need,” said French. “Part of that process was that we could run a mini-competition, which meant that for our councillors they felt there was competition in the market being structured.” 

In May 2014, the council commissioned Local Partnerships to undertake an energy performance contracting programme, which provided guaranteed energy efficiency savings. Following the analysis carried out for the local authority by the RE:FIT team, a mini-competition was run and Bouygues was appointed as the preferred service provider. 

“That we could have support from the likes of Local Partnerships where this is a very technical subject area, and just having their experience having gone through some of this work before, was comforting for us to feel that we wouldn’t make any major blunders,” said French. 

The project encompasses an initial 21 corporate buildings and 42 schools. Also, as part of this project’s scope, the council included the delivery of a large 12MW solar park in Soham. Nine of the schools were included in a pilot delivered in 2015. 

The remaining schools completed their technical assessments during 2015, with planned works being delivered during 2016. 

“At the moment, we have a 12MW solar park which is under contract – and that should be functional by October,” said French, “and we’ve got seven corporate buildings in contract and about 27 schools in contract, and we have more in the pipeline.”

The retrofit investment has included installing a 30kW CIGS Solar PV Array on the large south-facing roof of Milton Primary school, which is expected to generate an annual financial benefit of £4,689, while saving 8.4 tonnes of carbon a year. 

Invest to save 

Asked whether this type of investment is something all councils should consider, French said: “I don’t think it is much of a choice. My thought is that if you don’t do this, you are going to be in greater financial problems for the future. You need to invest to save now; otherwise there will be even bigger debt challenges later. 

“If people can’t see that this is in their toolbox to manage future costs, then they need to reflect on ‘why not?’” 

Discussing the support from the RE:FIT team, she said: “It is really important that when you go into a framework contract, like the RE:FIT framework, that you have confidence working with people who have your best interests at heart. 

“With the fact that local authorities are just getting into this area of work, it can be quite comforting working with someone who has the experience in this way. It helps build up a strong knowledge base.”

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