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Council on the look out for the greenest option for future energy supplier

28 March 2023

Cambridgeshire County Councillors have given their backing to go ahead with the search for a new energy supplier, as they carbon credentials of its current provider of electricity have led Cambridgeshire County Council to defer a decision to sign up for a further four years while it looks into further options, including netting off electricity use by generating its own power.

At today’s Strategy and Resources Committee (Jan 26th), Members heard that energy is traded on wholesale markets up to 18 months in advance, the reason that a contract starting from October 2024 needs to be signed so far in advance,

Since 2016 the Council has had a single contract in place for the supply of electricity with Total Energies, a French multinational oil and gas company from which it purchases a ‘Pure Green’ electricity tariff at a small extra cost. The contract, renewed in 2020 for a further four years, expires in September 2024 and was negotiated via the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO), of which the County Council is a shareholder along with five other councils. The Council will look to open discussion with ESPO in its shareholder role on how ESPO can bring forward greener opportunities to the market, using its influence, and demonstrating its commitment to tackling the climate emergency.

The council was offered four different options for contract renewal – to continue to buy through ESPO who have already sourced Total as its preferred supplier, to move to other purchasing organisations who might offer a ‘greener’ alternative or to conduct the purchase on its own.

In recent discussions with ESPO, the opportunity has arisen to allow the council to offset the energy it purchases with energy it generates, such as from the North Angle solar farm which is due to become operational later this year. Once fully operational, North Angle solar farm is expected to generate around 40 GWh per year, which is more than twice as much electricity as the Council uses at all of its other sites combined.

It is not yet known if this opportunity would be available via other purchasing organisations, and Members agreed to defer making a final decision on the contract until the committee’s March meeting to explore this further..

Electricity is the source of all of the Council’s ‘scope 2’ (energy indirect) gross carbon emissions –however these emissions are zero rated wherever electricity is generated from 100% renewable sources such as wind or solar.

Electricity use for the council in future years is very uncertain given the likely reductions the council is implementing as part of its climate change strategy and commitment to reach net zero by 2045. These include a replacement programme of streetlights to LED, the council’s move to electric vehicles, and the ability to ‘net off’ the energy that council generates itself or is planning to do so in the future.

The County Council currently uses around 20 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity each year, at an annual current cost of around £3.5m. This cost per unit is likely to be significantly higher in future years, and could rise to around £8m a year by 2024 if current usage levels were to continue. The Council is currently responsible for electricity bills of around 200 supply points including offices, libraries, community centres and other buildings, plus street lighting, feeder pillars and traffic signals - but not schools.

“The Council is committed to doing the right thing for the environment and by using its purchasing powers along with its renewables investment could help shape the new energy system we all need,” commented Cllr Lorna Dupre, Chair of the Council’s Environment and Green Investment Committee after the meeting.