With energy prices continuing to soar, the work Wokingham Borough Council are doing to make their properties more energy efficient as part of their climate emergency action plan, is also having wider benefits by helping to reduce energy usage and cut costs, saving the council thousands of pounds every year.
“It’s not just residents and businesses who are being affected by rising energy bills, but the council as well.” Said Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for resident services, communications and emissions. Whilst a big driver for these projects is to reduce our carbon emissions and support our climate emergency action plan, the ability to reduce our costs, and support our services, is proving a massive benefit to all”
“We manage a diverse range of properties including schools, community buildings and offices. It’s critical we can get these buildings performing at their best and we continue to roll out a range of projects to make our properties more energy secure.
“To date we’ve already installed over 55 solar panel arrays across 48 of our properties and continue to look for locations where we can install more, as well as installing new battery systems linked to the panels, meaning the solar energy generated can be stored on site and used when needed rather than simply being fed back into the grid. We’ve also installed high quality insulation and hundreds of LED light fittings across our schools, not just providing a much better quality of light but also saving money as the bulbs last longer and are much cheaper to run.”
Alongside retrofitting work such as solar panels, LED lighting and improved insulation and glazing, the council has also installed a network of automatic sensors and monitoring equipment across their sites, enabling them to track the systems remotely and identify any changes to usage in real time.
This information is helping the council identify and resolve issues quickly, such as potential water leaks or power-hungry equipment being accidentally left on during school holidays, rather than having to wait weeks for the next utilities bill to arrive so it can be compared to the previous quarter and year.
Cllr Graham Howe, executive member for children’s services, said: “As our schools continue to recover from the pandemic it’s important they can focus their resources on supporting pupils and making sure they have the help they need rather than having to worry about paying their next energy bill. Being able to provide schools with affordable sustainable energy on site is a fantastic way to help reduce this pressure as well as giving them the ability to better forecast costs over the year.
“The savings vary by school and depend on factors such as the number of panels installed and the wider energy efficiency of the property, but the feedback from schools who have had them installed has been great. They have all seen their energy bills fall and, as costs for energy continue to spiral, the benefits will become greater as they won’t have to buy in as much power to meet their needs.
“There’s also been great feedback about the live monitoring system as it’s a real help to schools, allowing the council to work closely with the on-site staff to offer support and help make sure the properties are managed well, especially during the holiday times when there aren’t as many people about to keep an eye on the site.”
Information about the Climate Emergency Action Plan, along with progress against targets, can be found on the council’s website climate emergency page.
Support for residents with improving their own homes
And it’s not just the council who can benefit from savings by making their properties more energy efficient but residents as well who can cut their energy bills by making small changes to their homes or accessing one of the council’s support schemes like Help to Heat or the Green Homes Grant.
Cllr Murray continued: “Whilst we know some improvements, such as installing solar panels, aren’t possible for all, there are still lots of things people can do to reduce their energy consumption and lower their bills. Whether it’s switching over to low energy LED lightbulbs, installing new draughtproofing strip, or simply turning your heating thermostat down by one degree, it can all add up to a good saving on your bill.
“I’d also encourage people to see if they might be eligible for support from our Help to Heat scheme which has already helped over 1,300 local homes install free or heavily subsidised insulation. The eligibility criteria is much wider than people realise and, in addition to those aged over 65, it also includes people with children under five, those with disabilities, and those with a range of health conditions including diabetes, dementia, cancer, cardiovascular disease and many more.
“We also recently launched the local element of the Green Homes Grant, a government scheme, which helps households with incomes below £30,000 and living in poorly energy efficient properties access additional funding to make improvements to their home such as solar panels, heat pumps or solid wall insulation.”
Full details of eligibility for Help to Heat is available on the Council website energy saving and climate page.
People can find out more about the Green Homes Grant on the Energy Trust website.
Additional Support for Residents
Worrying about money can feel overwhelming, so please remember help is here. You can find more information about what is available in the borough on the council’s online Local Support Hub. If you are worried about debt you can also contact One Front Door, led by Citizens Advice Wokingham, for a confidential chat, on 0808 278 7958 Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, or via the website.
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