Observer column: 14 June 2019
Earlier this year, Hastings Council unanimously approved a resolution to declare a 'climate emergency' and do all it could to tackle climate change. This included investigating all possible sites for installation of solar arrays, on council-owned land and buildings.
So far, two council buildings have solar panels installed on them: Muriel Matters House on the seafront and the Innovation Centre at Castleham Industrial Estate. Installation of solar panels on the Parker Road college site was carried out by Energise Sussex Coast (ESC), a local community energy project, with whom the council are working in partnership to get solar panels on as many buildings as possible. We will be working with ESC to identify further roofs that can be 'solarised'. However, further progress had stalled because the government cancelled their 'feed-in tariff' scheme for new installations.
Now the government has announced a new scheme to replace the former feed-in tariff, called the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). This places a legal obligation on energy suppliers to introduce export tariffs by 1st January 2020, so new solar panels on roofs will again be able to sell energy back into the grid - so we'll be able to get on with installing solar arrays on roofs again. We're investigating initiatives with partners where we support the solarisation of 'third-party' roofs, for example through financing the capital expenditure, or linking solar arrays to create 'rooftop power stations'. However, not all roofs are suitable. Many roofs on industrial buildings in particular are too weak, or contain asbestos so can't be drilled or cut. But there is a big opportunity here. The solar arrays on Muriel Matters House alone, installed last year, have already generated almost 20,000kWh of electricity - enough to boil the water for almost a million cups of tea!
But the installation of solar panels on roofs will be nowhere near enough to make Hastings carbon-neutral, as we have pledged to do. Nationally, the scale of the task is huge. Not only will it be necessary to generate all the electricity we currently use by sustainable methods, we'll also need to phase out gas and oil used for all other purposes. That means increasing the amount of electricity we generate from sustainable sources more than tenfold. Those demands will come quickly, with gas heating phased out in new buildings from 2015, and internal combustion engines in cars by 2040. But if we're to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, we'll need to increase sustainable energy generation very quickly, using technologies available to us now.
Which is why Hastings Council is looking at the possibility of installing solar arrays on land it owns. This could include car parks, with solar arrays mounted above them - these panels could be linked directly to electric vehicle charging points. We're reviewing our local plan, to identify potential sites for wind turbines. Wave and tidal power could be possible in the future, although there are at the moment no viable systems to generate electricity in this way. But we need to consider solar arrays on other land too.
Across the country, we are going to see a lot more sustainable energy generation, particularly on rural land, in the form of both wind turbines and solar arrays, which won't always be locally popular. The visual appearance of the countryside will change. Hastings will need to play its part, if we're to keep generating the electricity we need.
Council Leader's column