Renewable energy review is ‘critical’

by next year carbon emissions will cost Scottish Borders Council £252,000 and a full review of renewable energy in the region has just been completed, the aim being to reduce costs and make the area more energy efficient.

From 2011 the council is required to participate in the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme with targets of a three per cent annual reduction and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. As part of this scheme SBC will buy CO2 allowances, and the more efficient it is in reducing CO2 emissions the fewer allowances it will have to buy - the current emission level is 21,000 tonnes of CO2 a year which will cost them over £252,000 - a sum that will increase each year if emissions remain unchanged.

Since June 2009 the review group has been looking at a number of different energy options: dry biomass, ground source heating, wind generated electricity, hydro-electricity, solar power, anaerobic digestion, energy from waste, community renewable energy schemes, availability of grants and the cost effectiveness of heating council buildings with renewable energy.

“This review is not only appropriate but critical to informing the future direction of council policy, particularly in the context of the current and likely future fiscal constraints,” said Councillor Gavin Logan, chairman of the Review of Renewable Energy- The Challenges and Opportunities for the Scottish Borders Working Group.

“Some opportunities are more obvious than others. The substantial amount of woodland in the Borders makes wood biomass fuel production and use an evident example and the Borders is already an area of national importance in wind energy.”

Scottish Borders Council, however, has a long way to go to improve its own energy efficiency.

They stumbled at the first hurdle. Having had biomass boilers installed in their three new high schools at Duns, Eyemouth and Earlston gas rather than woodchip has primarily been used, prompting the Scrutiny report to comment: “This unfortunate position means that the accurate data required to assess the cost savings expected from using biomass is not available and cannot, as yet intended, be used to inform decisions on the type of heating systems to be installed into the planned new primary schools or replacement boilers in other council buildings.”

And council buildings do not rate highly as energy efficient, the main headquarters at Newtown St Boswells being given an F rating (very poor). This lack of fuel efficiency also meant a £3.7 million fuel bill in 2008/9.

They have already accessed available funding of £300,000 to introduce energy efficiency measures such as new lighting and insulation and are now looking at other renewable energy sources for their headquarters, such as solar and wind energy.

Wind energy has been the source of considerable controversy in the region, particularly in the Lammermuirs, where many residents have been fighting, largely unsuccessfully, to have the number of turbines limited.

So far there are seven operational wind farms in the Borders and the energy review states: “The amount of wind generated electricity produced in the Borders already equals the total demand within the area therefore the Borders is already an exporter of electricity.

“When those sites currently being developed are on stream, the amount of electricity produced will rise by around 67 per cent and in the medium term (five years) there is potential to generate around four times the current amount, enough for 500,000 homes.

“The working group recognised the impact of wind turbines on the Borders landscape and the need to balance renewable energy generation needs against environment protection.”

Offshore windfarm proposals include an area off the Berwickshire coast; community wind farms are currently being investigated at Selkirk, Hawick and Lauder; and the community income derived from energy companies (such as those operating wind farms) could potentially be worth £1.1 million a year to the local economy.

The report indicates there is potential for 158 hydro electric schemes in the Borders, plus the 30,000 tons of poultry manure from the region’s 2.8 million poultry fowl could also generate electricity and one major poultry farmer is already in discussions with Scottish Enterprise about this as a commercial enterprise.

Now the first step being taken is to set up a new body in the region called the Borders Renewables Energy Agency (BREA), to: agree levels of community benefit with energy companies; provide information and advice on energy efficiency; deliver education programmes; provide training on energy related skills; and develop renewable energy projects.

Full costings for the recommendations included in the report are to be presented to the council’s executive and a decision on improving the council buildings is to be made as soon as possible.