Warrington Borough Council is set to become the first local authority in the country 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 £2m pounds on the council’s energy costs.
The £21m investment in the Hull site comes after a similar deal to buy a site in Gloucestershire fell through due to local grid connection issues.
Councillor Russ Bowden, deputy leader and executive board member for corporate finance said: ‘Our total investment will be £58.7m, 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.’
Locally, the council has installed solar PV (photovoltaic) on 3,000 housing association properties and they say they have 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.’
It’s been a mixed year for council-owned energy projects, with Portsmouth City Council abandoning plans to launch their own energy company after a report concluded it could require up to £15.2m of taxpayers money to get up and running and would not be able to pay it back for up to eight years.
In June, Nottingham-based Robin Hood Energy announced their first profits, after trading for three years.
The Hull site is expected to be generating electricity by summer 2019, with York following in the autumn.