A self sustaining investment unit allows the council to fund energy-saving technologies ©123RF
A self sustaining investment unit allows the council to fund energy-saving technologies ©123RF

Cambridgeshire's innovative approach to buying renewable energy

The head of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Energy Investment Unit (EIU) has told how a self-funding body was developed to finance the retrofitting of council properties.

Jane Frank, programme manager at EIU, said creating a self sustaining investment unit allowed the council to invest in energy-saving technologies for public buildings, reducing costs and energy emissions.

She said the creation of a dedicated energy team enabled her to upskill members to become more familiar with the risks and challenges of managing energy performance contracting projects.

Speaking at the Public Sector Show, Frank said the unit had successfully managed a £10m retrofit programme procuring sustainable energy contracts and infrastructure for 40 schools and eight corporate sites including offices and libraries. She added a second phase of work had more than 48 projects in the pipeline.

The council also has a £30m low-carbon investment fund that has backed a number of projects, the largest of which is a 12 megawatt solar farm built by the council in Soham, Cambridgeshire, the profits from which are being put back into the council.

All of these projects have an element of battery storage and include smart grids, renewable generation and more recently power purchase agreements and electric vehicle charging, said Frank, and have been carried out in partnership with the council’s energy services company, Bouygues Energies & Services.

Frank said the Bouygues contract was procured from the Refit framework provided by the Local Partnership, a joint venture between the Treasury, Local Government Association and Welsh Government, set up to support public sector infrastructure development.

Frank said through working with the Refit framework, EUI had seen benefits in terms of investment, cost savings and CO2 savings. “We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved locally in terms of the local economy,” she said.

“That’s job creation – including jobs like my job because we’re a self-sustaining unit – but also jobs in the supply chain. More than 60% of the installation work completed in the county is from local companies.”

EIU developed out of a 2012 initiative called Mobilising Local Energy Investment (MLEI), which itself came about after a 2011 report estimated 28% of Cambridgeshire’s energy needs could be met by renewables in 2031. “At that time it was actually only 7%, and we also knew there was huge potential for retrofit within the public sector,” said Frank.

MLEI created a low-carbon investment fund to enable investment in energy projects, which Frank used the Refit framework to deliver. And the council established an investment programme with a value of £50m over three years. “As well as hitting those investment targets, we were able to significantly upskill within the authority,” said Frank.

“Sustainability project managers like myself became familiar with how to do these sorts of energy performance contracting projects and the kinds of risks and challenges we needed to overcome,” she said.

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