Rochdale embraces a new solar future
With the International Energy Agency this week announcing that solar energy could be the world’s top source of electricity by 2050, one small corner of Rochdale is already set to do its bit.
This month Rochdale Borough Council will begin work on a 250kW photovoltaic (PV) solar farm on an old waste disposal site behind Rochdale Leisure Centre, on Entwistle Road. This will add to the 100kw rooftop solar panels already operating at the council-owned Heywood Sports Village.
To be built by Southern Solar, the new farm will have an operating life of 25 years, and the electricity generated from both sites will be sold back to Link4Life to power the sports complexes.
According to the IEA, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have been the fastest-growing renewable energy technology in the world since 2000. There recent report said that solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16% of the world’s electricity by 2050, while solar thermal electricity (STE) - from “concentrating” solar power plants - could provide a further 11%.
The development forms part of the council’s on-going pledge to cut its carbon emissions by 48% by 2020, and is part of a wider innovative plan to generate energy and cut power bills at a time of great strain of council coffers.
Each year the council uses 27.5GWh of electricity to power buildings and offices, with the 2012/13 bill coming in at £2.8m, excluding street lighting and leisure sites.
Under the Rochdale Green Action Plan, the council's overarching sustainability strategy, the council is looking to generate new multi-million-pound revenue streams, while also putting land assets to work, helping to underwrite energy security and offset soaring energy prices, and fulfilling its renewable power and carbon reduction obligations.
A pilot turbine on the site of the former Hill Top School in Kirkholt, has been generating electricity since April and plans have also been submitted for two more council-owned wind farms in Hopwood.
"We needed to come up with imaginative solutions in tough economic times."
Councillor Richard Farnell, leader of Rochdale Borough Council, said: "Faced with making savings of £51m over the next two years, we needed to come up with imaginative solutions in tough economic times and come up with an alternative as traditional energy sources become scarcer.”
"This solar farm will help us become more energy self-sufficient in a time where fuel bills are on the rise."
Mark Widdup, Director of Economy and Environment for Rochdale Borough Council, added: "We are leading the way as a 'green' authority and this solar farm will not only bring in revenue for the authority but help us become more energy self-sufficient in a time where fuel bills are on the rise."
The Rochdale development is also important within the GM context, explains Sarah Davies, AGMA’s head of strategy and programmes for the environment, with the council having already carried pioneering work in this area.
“An important aspect of GM’s climate change strategy is how the whole region can significantly increase the development of renewables,” she says. “Rochdale carried out a substantial study into its own capacity, with a particular emphasis on wind power, and this has since formed a template for other local authorities in Greater Manchester. Importantly, it also included advice about how to ensure local residents’ views are taken into account.”
Alongside this other local authorities have added to the knowledge pool about how to supply clean, cheap renewable energy. Stockport has carried out some important work into potential hydro schemes and taken a lead on better understanding GM's biomass resource, while Oldham has focused on energy switching and tariffs, as well as developing a GM approach to wind. Salford has provided leadership on Natural Capital and Manchester on carbon literacy and heat networks, among other things.
“Its all about harnessing the strengths and expertise within authorities to create a whole GM that's stronger than the sum of its parts,” adds Davies.
Contributed by Helen Bidwell
Contributed by Rachel Whelan
Mark Hillsdon is a freelance writer with a passion for nature and the great outdoors. A regular contributor to magazines such as Coast and CountryFile, he also writes on sustainability for the Guardian, and the occasional travel piece for the Independent. On Sunday. He has also been writing on all things Mancunian since first getting off the Euston train as a student nearly 30 years ago.