Friday, 14 October 2016

Solar energy in West Sussex

It was a year ago when our solar farm project at Tangmere was completed. At the time there was a lot of press interest as West Sussex was one of the first councils to embark on such a project in the country. Some may ask why a council would get involved in such a project, and it is a fair question.

For quite a long time we had been looking at various ways of providing alternative energy. Right back in 2005 we installed a biomass burner at Buchan Country Park to provide heat and hot water to our visitor centre and staff accommodation. This continues to be a great success and, once again, we were the first authority in the South East to use such technology. As the second most wooded county, it made perfect sense to harness natural resources to provide energy.

Since then we have continued to power ahead with our sustainable energy improvements and have put policies in place to ensure there is continual investment in new ways to save energy. We have combined this with our passion to develop low carbon energy using our natural resources across the county. One way we have achieved this is through our partnership project launched in 2014 called Your Energy Sussex. This has brought together local councils and construction company Carillion to work with residents and businesses to save energy, reduce their bills and generate renewable energy. This partnership has gone from strength-to-strength and shows what we can achieve by working together.

Solar power is a sensible option for West Sussex as we are the sunniest county in the country. We have had a range of small solar projects over the years, such as solar panels on the roofs of our office buildings, but the biggest commitment for us so far is the solar farm at Tangmere. These 18,000 solar panels sitting on 29 acres of County Council land have already generated almost 5,000 MWh of clean electricity - enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes for an entire year. As part of our agreement with Carillion, we used local contractors who did an excellent job completing the work on time and in budget as Council Tax payers would expect.

I don’t mind admitting that this project is important to me as it will help you to understand why I visited one year on to see if it has delivered all that was promised. The solar panels have been busy but still look in pristine condition. The benefits of planting a range of wild flowers to improve biodiversity on the site is working. Interestingly sheep regularly graze on the land so it still has agricultural usage and I am reliably told sheep use the panels to shelter from the rain and sun. Over its 25 years life span Tangmere will generate £13.8 million and pay back the cost of the project in less than ten years.

We are now looking to invest in more solar panels farms and are exploring areas which might be suitable. We are also looking at whether we can store the energy which will have even bigger benefits for our residents. These projects are a powerful step to protect our environment and provide much needed additional energy to our residents. It is something we believe should be happening across the country and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.

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