Manchester City Council’s Environment & Climate Change Scrutiny Committee met last Thursday to review the business case for what it describes as a radical step towards decarbonisation.
This is a big-ticket item towards the council’s target of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, equivalent to 15,000 tonnes of CO2. In their forecast, this proposal alone will deliver savings of 7,000 tonnes towards that target.
A feasibility study concluded there are 2 options: purchase a solar PV facility or negotiate a power purchase agreement (PPA).
A modest solar farm could bank just those 7,000 tonnes of CO2 savings but a more ambitious facility could contribute to the 2038 zero carbon deadline in a more significant way. We’re talking more than 100 hectares of land generating 45-50 MW of solar PV.
The project is forecast to cost £30-39m and would have a life of up to 40 years.
Councillors were supportive of the proposal, though many were disappointed the project could not be sited in Greater Manchester itself. The recommendation was for a sunnier spot in the south of England.
Cllr Razaq (Whalley Range) still wanted to pursue the government on the Warm Homes Scheme, to get more solar panels installed on Manchester rooftops.
Cllr Holt (Chorlton) and Cllr Shilton Godwin (Chorlton Park) were frustrated by legal complexities that prevented a more joined up approach, like buying a bigger solar farm to generate energy for all the schools in the city. Still, with 2038 some way off, Cllr Holt wanted those blockers recorded so she could get to work tackling them.
I would definitely support a council owned solar farm. It should be ambitious, with long-term thinking and developed in a way that maximises all the benefits. Though the report mentions the common planning requirement of 10% Biodiversity Net Gain, I would like to have seen a stronger commitment here.
If MCC is going to build its own facility somewhere in the sunny south, it should also be a haven for wildlife for the lifetime of the project.
So far, so supportive.
Is this a radical step? Well, it could be.
The council needs this project to stay within its own carbon budget, and there are very few big savings like this that don’t come with a lot of resistance. Meanwhile, the wider city is rapidly burning through its carbon budget for rest of the century, which makes us more dependent on ‘radical’ interventions.
Are we going to go big and build our own solar farm or are we going to compromise and just buy someone else’s solar power? With a new leader in place, this is a real test of the council’s priorities.