Municipal greenery

South Tyneside Council is one of the councils to be accredited under the Carbon Trust's Energy Efficiency scheme. The man responsible, Andrew Atkinson, reveals how he did it.

When I joined South Tyneside Council in 1999, they had a combined energy and water bill of £2.5 million and a small team of two people whose main work was to look after heating controls in buildings and pay energy invoices. These two people were based in the Streetlighting and Highways section. This meant that although they were very dedicated they had little corporate impact; this had to be addressed in order to move forward.

The best method of gaining the attention of senior management is to demonstrate financial savings. We in the Energy Management department undertook analysis of all the energy and water accounts. Through using tariff analysis, reducing water meter sizes and converting unmetered water supplies to metered ones we were very quickly able to demonstrate savings of £120,000 per annum. No energy or water had been saved but senior management now had to take notice. Energy and water management had arrived on the corporate agenda.

The next step for the energy conservation team was to reduce energy and water consumption. An application was made to retain some of the aforementioned financial savings so that we could create a small investment programme for energy and water conservation measures. Measures for projects with paybacks of under three years were then implemented. This resulted in ongoing savings of approximately £60,000 per annum. At this point, it became clear that we needed a public demonstration of our commitment to reducing energy and water usage. We signed up to Making a Corporate Commitment 2 (MACC2), which enabled us to make a public declaration of our energy performance.

Accreditation where due

The Council also needed to demonstrate that it was following best practice. We decided in 2002 to go for the prestigious Energy Efficiency Accreditation Scheme (EEAS) award. The award is assessed by independent consultants CLAWS, who examine your performance in energy management. Categories on which you’re assessed include management, commitment, investment in energy efficiency, reduction in energy use and overall performance. South Tyneside Council achieved this award in near record time, becoming one of only six metropolitan borough councils accredited under

the scheme.

Those accredited need to show continuing progress in order to retain their status – and, as CLAWS’ Alan Williams says, “South Tyneside made, and continue to make progress in their energy management programme. The steady and thoughtful development of sound energy management and their careful integration into the Council’s management ethic typify their approach. South Tyneside should be proud of their record in caring for energy and the environment.”

One of the most valuable messages to come out of the accreditation process was the improvement plan which demonstrated our areas of weakness. This enabled me to put into action a three-year plan, taking us up to September of this year.

However there was still a feeling from the assessors that we were not fully integrated into the workings of the authority. This was rectified when we moved into the corporate asset management service. Energy conservation was then incorporated into the Council’s asset management service delivery plan and ‘Performing Together’, the master plan for the Council. We worked with partners such as Northumbrian Water on high-profile awareness-raising projects such as producing bookmarks and writing a play for schools called What a Waste, which toured approximately 30 of our primary schools. We were also in contact with many of the North East’s councils, sharing best practice and resolving issues that faced us all.

The green mile

A corporate decision was made to purchase 100% certified green electricity. This decision was made, despite an additional financial cost to the Council, in order to demonstrate our green credentials. This measure alone has resulted in carbon dioxide savings of 9,000 tonnes per annum.

It may seem strange, given how hard we worked to achieve the budget, to recall that at this point in the story, investment in energy efficiency was put on hold for 12 months. We realised, however, that we were installing measures on a piecemeal basis and that, in order to be more effective, we really needed to carry out the work in a planned fashion. A programme of energy surveys for 150 of our larger buildings was embarked upon. Asset Management funded this work with some external assistance from the Carbon Trust.

Our department is now a core part of any refurbishment or new build work that the Council carries out on its operational properties.

In 2004, with a comprehensive list of works, we submitted a bid to the Carbon Trust for funding from its Local Authority Energy Financing Scheme (LAEF). This bid was successful, and with matched funding from the authority we now have a substantial pot of money to invest in energy efficiency. This money is issued in the form of interest-free loans for works to be installed. The loan is then repaid over an agreed timescale, so there will always be a continuous fund of money for investment in energy efficiency. The loan payments are calculated on agreed savings resulting from the installation of the measure.

This year the Council has commenced participation in the Local Authority Carbon Management programme (LACM), which is funded by the Carbon Trust. Over the coming 12 months we will be examining all the carbon emissions from the Council’s operational activities, including energy, waste and transport. The aim of this programme is to deliver a costed carbon management implementation plan and raise awareness of climate change issues.

A sense of achievement

All of these projects, while by no means easy, have been achievable. The improvements, while not innovative, have worked. Without doubt, significant progress has been delivered over the last five years.

Looking to the future, rising energy costs and the need to curtail carbon emissions will make energy conservation increasingly important.

The move to carbon management has been a significant step forward. The profile of carbon management is rising

and has been inserted as a key action in the Council’s recently-launched Environmental Strategy 2005. We aim

to be the best by Bettering the Environment in South Tyneside (BEST).

Andrew Atkinson is the Energy Conservation Manager at South Tyneside

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