THE activities and operations of Swindon Borough Council could be carbon neutral in less than 10 years’ time.
The council has made a pledge to achieve its green ambition by 2030 â€“ but cabinet member for climate change thinks itâ€™s possible the authority might be adding no further carbon to the atmosphere before that.
But Keith Williams says there are a couple of things to note.
He said: “The first thing is that being carbon neutral by 2030 is just the council, not Swindon as a whole, although we do have a target that the borough as a whole will be carbon neutral by 2050.
â€śThe other is that carbon neutrality means getting the carbon emissions down as far as possible, and then offsetting the rest. Itâ€™s not possible to do what the council does without causing any carbon emissions at all.â€ť
The councilâ€™s own work â€“ excluding the council houses it owns â€“ puts 15,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year.
The largest single part of that total comes from the councilâ€™s use of electricity â€“ lighting its offices and powering all the computers and equipment its staff use costs 450 tonnes of carbon, lighting its car parks uses 420 tonnes, the townâ€™s libraries and museums use another 370 tonnes and the buildings the council owns and leases to other organisations use 2,895 tonnes.
Street-lighting â€“ with 28,000 lights across the borough â€“ costs the council 3,269 tonnes in carbon every year, on top of a 2,700-tonne figure for other electricity.
A scheme to replace all of the street lamps with LED versions is underway at a cost of ÂŁ6.9 million.
Coun Williams said: â€śThatâ€™s why we are spending so much on replacing all the street lamps. That will cut the carbon emissions from street lighting by 60 per cent and the total of carbon from electricity by 40 per cent.”
Transport also costs a huge amount of carbon, with the councilâ€™s vehicles â€“ including some of the heavy plant used at Waterside Park â€“ costing 400 tonnes in petrol, diesel or fuel oil.
Cou Williams said: â€śWeâ€™re looking at electrifying our fleet.
“They are trialling electric bin lorries in Oxfordshire and weâ€™re looking at that, and we already back the bid to make Swindon an electric bus town.â€ť
One of the advantages the council has compared to other organisations is that it has land to use.
It plans on planting 40 hectares of trees as part of offsetting its emissions.
Coun Williams sounded a note of caution, adding: “That could bank 90,000 tonnes of carbon â€“ but not everyone can do that. Reduction in our use is more important, we want the emissions to be reduced as much as possible â€“ and it would help with the whole boroughâ€™s emissions.”
Heating 10,000 council houses is also a huge cost in carbon at 35,000 tonnes a year. But it is one the council finds hard to affect.
Coun Williams said: â€śWe canâ€™t tell people how warm they want their house.
â€śBut what we can do is improve the efficiency of those houses so theyâ€™re cheaper to heat. We have applied for grants for retrofitting houses â€“ glazing, insulation, putting in more efficient boilers. Itâ€™s much better to do that and use less energy in the first place than put solar panels on the roof and generate more. Even the type of letterbox a house has can make a big difference.â€ť
But Coun Williams not against generating electricity on the roof.
He said: â€śThere are solar panels on the roof of Euclid Street, the bus depot in Barnfield is covered in solar panels.â€ť
For Coun Williams it is important the council is seen to be doing the right thing when it comes to cutting carbon: â€śThere are companies in Swindon who are ahead of us, I know some are already carbon neutral, but we want to show people what can be done, and help them make choices as consumers.
â€śItâ€™s vital that everybody makes the right choices to cut emissions and stop climate change.â€ť
It’s time for serious action
LABOUR’S spokesman for the environment Jane Milner-Barry says she approves of the council’s aims â€“ but thinks it needs to do much more.
With running leisure centres and swimming pools outsourced to a private company, roads built by private contractors and parish councils taking on more responsibility, Coun Milner-Barry says the borough has cut its carbon emissions â€“ but largely by moving the activities which generate them to other bodies.
She said: â€śAs the council shrinks, so its emissions have shrunk without any action on the councilâ€™s part. The emissions become someone elseâ€™s responsibility, but they are still being pumped into the atmosphere.â€ť
Coun Milner-Barry says the massive housebuilding expansion and construction of roads to serve them will create huge emissions for the borough.
â€śItâ€™s time we stopped playing about with the calculations and took serious action,” she said.
â€śThe councilâ€™s various carbon reduction projects do have value but not in the scale of the reductions, which in relation to the borough as a whole is tiny, but in the role they could play in showing other organisations in the borough what should be done.
â€śThe council should be directly contacting other organisations in the borough, giving more publicity to everything it is doing, and constantly driving home the need for social and economic change.
â€śThe first word you see on the councilâ€™s website every day is coronavirus.
“The communications department should also instructed to work on a climate change information campaign, aimed both at other organisations and the general public, using the coronavirus campaign as a model.
“Whenever itâ€™s safe to take coronavirus off the front page, a climate change action campaign designed on similar lines needs to take its place.â€ť
‘The clock is ticking’
ANDY Bentley of Swindon Green Party says the council needs to look at a wider picture.
â€śThe elephant in the room is all the stuff that is not addressed,” he said. “The council must look beyond just improving its own estate and instead encompass all the areas where it has powers and responsibilities.
“Heating and lighting council houses produce double the emissions of the councilâ€™s own operations, but in turn they are dwarfed by those of the wider population, not only in housing but from commercial and industrial usage.
“Massive investment is needed to bring all of those buildings up to acceptable levels of energy efficiency, far higher than traditional insulation and including solar panels, underfloor insulation and draught proofing.
“If you look at the emissions from personal and business transport, they again dwarf those of the council itself.
“While the council is not responsible for creating those, it has a huge part to play in enabling Swindon at large to reduce emissions across the board.
“A comprehensive strategy is required for the council to not only reduce its own emissions but set the whole of Swindon on a path to net-zero by 2030. That strategy needs to run through every aspect of the councilâ€™s operations.
“Overall, the measures Coun Williams is talking about are welcome and a vital part of the overall solution. However, far greater ambition is needed.
“The science says we should be aiming for net-zero by 2030, weâ€™re a long way away from achieving that and the clock is ticking.”