Councillors and officers from Winchester City Council toured renewable energy schemes last week to learn more about what the City Council might do next to move towards a low carbon Winchester District.

The tour was suggested, co-ordinated and accompanied by members of Winchester Action on Climate Change, following a recent report to the City Council’s Cabinet about the steps that the Council has already made to ‘tread more lightly on the planet’.

Members heard how LED lights have been installed in the Guildhall, and in Chesil and Tower Street Multi-Storey Car Parks. LED lights save energy, money and trouble. They use a fraction of the energy of an old-fashioned incandescent lightbulb, pay for themselves within a year, and only need to be replaced after about 10 years. Chesil Street Car Park also now has sensors so that the lights come on when someone moves, keeping them safe and well-lit without wasting light when no-one is around.  A programme of draught-proofing stops heating being wasted at the Guildhall, where even the new toilets are the latest water-saving design.

The UK has legally-binding targets to cut emissions of harmful greenhouse gases that pollute our atmosphere and cause global warming, and the Cabinet is keen to ensure that the City Council does its share to meet those targets. In April, it asked for a plan to set out what the Council should do next.

As part of this, councillors - including five members of the Planning Committee,  - visited West Mill Farm to learn about wind turbines in community ownership, and the nearby Westmill Solar Farm with 30 acres of over 20,000 polycrystalline PV panels. They found that the wind farm was largely inaudible from 200 metres, and close to, sounded like waves on a beach.  “The skylarks were noisier than the turbines, at times”, one joked. They saw that sheep can graze safely under the solar panels, and crops were being grown right up to the footings of the wind turbines. 

The group went on to Basingstoke College of Technology to see solar panels on the roofs. “It makes moral sense and financial sense – and the combination of both is unstoppable,” said David Moir, Vice-Principal of Basingstoke College, who admitted to having been very sceptical at first but was convinced when he looked into renewable energy.

Finally, the tour learnt about using supermarket food waste to create heat and gas at a guided tour of the Barfoots anaerobic digester at Herriard. They were surprised that only six lorries a day, and none at weekends, were needed to keep the digester adequately fed.

Councillors noted that the financial case for introducing renewable energy was a key driver for all the schemes – reducing existing costs, or generating income, or both. The financial return on solar PVs is stronger than ever: the Feed-In Tariff has reduced, but the cost of panels has reduced even faster.

Winchester Town Forum is spearheading a study into the options for putting solar panels into large roofs in Winchester City. “I learnt a lot from our tour,” said Cllr Anne Weir, Chair of  Winchester Town Forum. “If we can encourage investment into solar panels on the roofs of business, shops, offices and car parks, we’ll create our own energy and generate income for the local economy.”

 “Moving to a low carbon economy will be good for the District - it would not only reduce fuel costs for our residents," said Cllr Frank Pearson, Portfolio Holder for Environment, Health and Wellbeing. “It will bring in new business and jobs, as well as keeping the city and villages attractive for residents and visitors.”