Renewable Energy in Winchester District: 2024 Report

written by Bill Gunyon, independent researcher on renewable energy

Introduction

This report is similar to those that I produced for Winchester Action on the Climate Crisis in 2022 and 2023. It updates data on installations generating electricity from renewable sources located in our District. Commentary on progress is offered in my personal capacity.

Due to time lags in provision of data published by the UK government, the most important figures in this report are effective at 31st December 2022. Where more recent data is available, I have presented the picture as at 31st December 2023.

As in those earlier reports, “renewable energy” is expressed in the context of generation of electricity, as opposed to heat. The content assumes a basic understanding of terminology and measures relating to renewable energy.

I hope that more districts will compile data focused on local electricity generation. We can learn much from each other. Comments & corrections are welcome to bill@treadsoftly.net. (a pdf version of this report is available from that address)

April 2024

Contents

Report Summary

1.     Domestic Solar pv

2.     Non-domestic Solar pv

Trouble with commercial rooftop data

Register of non-domestic installations (above 50kW) – work in progress

Concorde Way – Case Study

3.     Solar Farms

Local Authorities and solar farms

4.    Other Technologies

5.    Local generation of electricity

6.    Local consumption of electricity

Data Centre

7.    Progress?

end of page 1

Report Summary

Within the last 15 months Winchester City Council has approved plans for two new solar farms. These are welcome decisions that respond to the crisis of British energy security, as well as the climate emergency.

The pipeline for future solar farms in Winchester District is moderately healthy, but slow-moving. Neither the City Council nor Hampshire County Council has revealed any specific plans for large scale solar on their own land in the District.

Gaps and shortcomings in data for local electricity will become more important as pressure grows on rural districts to host grid infrastructure. Difficulty in capturing solar data relating to commercial premises is particularly acute.

Utility scale battery energy storage capacity in Winchester District is almost non-existent. Barriers to this technology urgently need to be addressed.

Lack of disclosure of power consumption of data centres across the UK is a rising concern. IBM Hursley is no exception.

Despite two expensive consultancy assignments, significant flaws relating to renewable energy in the City Council’s climate plans have not been rectified. The process for developing tenders by Council officers might benefit from input by local and regional groups willing to offer expertise in this sector.

end of page 2

1. Domestic solar pv

Valuable near-real-time data for small renewable installations is accessible from the MCS Data Dashboard, enabling Table 1 to include figures for 2023. As this source excludes installations larger than 50 kilowatts, the data relates almost entirely to rooftop, as opposed to ground-based systems.

Table 1: Small-scale solar pv installed in Winchester District 2019-2023

 New installationsAverage cost (£)Average cost per kilowatt (£)Average kilowatt capacityTotal new kilowatt capacity
20193214,5121,5332.9945
20203024,8041,5633.1928
20215746,9101,8683.72,123
20227797,4211,7414.33,320
202395311,0722,0545.45,137
5-year totals  2,929     12,453
  • A 4 kilowatt home system typically requires 10 solar panels, depending on specification.
  • The final two columns may not precisely reflect the underlying data because they have been derived from figures in the first three columns, rather than directly from the database.

Trebling the number of annual installations over this five-year period is particularly impressive, given the absence of government subsidy. The figure of 953 new installations for 2023 surpasses the previous peak recorded in our District in 2011, a time when the feed-in tariff subsidy boosted household investment in the technology.

A note of caution is necessary; there has been a significant fall in monthly installations since July 2023, as skills shortages and wage inflation have pushed up prices. Nonetheless, Winchester remains a leading district in taking advantage of solar potential, both within Hampshire and nationally, as this table for our immediate neighbours shows:

Table 2: Percentage of households installing solar pv

In last 5 years 2019-2023In last 15 years 2009-2023
Eastleigh*6.0%Eastleigh*11.7%
Winchester*5.7%Winchester10.9%
East Hampshire*3.9%East Hampshire10.6%
Test Valley2.4%Test Valley6.3%
Basingstoke & Deane2.2%Basingstoke & Deane5.2%
*in top ten local authorities in England

end of page 3

When it was first released in 2022, the MCS Dashboard hosted some wayward figures for solar. These have been ironed out and this source is now widely quoted. A “Phase 2” update is promised for 2024.

Nevertheless, I remain instinctively wary about the data. Table 2 implies that solar panels should be visible on the roofs of more than one in ten properties in Winchester District. I’m not sure that day-to-day visual experience matches up to this benchmark.

The best way to resolve my highly unscientific observation would be to disaggregate the data to parish or postcode scale, where basic visual verification becomes more reliable. Indeed there are more fundamental benefits of disaggregation of district data, as has been demonstrated by the Impact Tool for parish carbon footprints developed by the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

Footnotes accompanying the MCS Dashboard are apologetic that new housing estates may be excluded from solar data, for technical reasons. They needn’t have worried; housing estates in Winchester District, as elsewhere, have almost universally failed to adopt this cheap and simple technology, let alone orientate and design their estates to optimise the sun’s potential for future owners. Campaigns for mandatory installation of solar panels on new properties have so far been ignored by the government, reputedly under the thumb of the housebuilding lobby.

As the train from London approaches Winchester, an uninterrupted view of the roofscape of the partially developed Kings Barton estate conveys a financial health warning to prospective purchasers. First buy the property and then pay again to retrofit. The developer, Cala Homes, is owned by Legal & General whose 2023 Climate Transition Plan, Our Journey to Net Zero, contains 59 references to the year 2030. This plan has a long way to travel in a short time and could start by upgrading the inadequate energy statements for over 1,000 remaining units at Kings Barton that currently exploit outdated planning regulations.

Phase 1A, Kings Barton, Winchester.   Image: Google Maps

end of page 4

2. Non-domestic Solar pv

Trouble with commercial rooftop data

It’s almost impossible to present accurate District data for non-domestic solar installations (often described as “commercial”). Unless resolved, this vacuum may impede local policies to encourage low carbon investment by employers and landowners.

The MCS Data Dashboard is a potential source of detail for installations of less than 50kW, the range in which most non-domestic systems is likely to fall. MCS data in Table 1 does include a sector labelled as “commercial” but its definition relates to the nature of the contract to sell electricity rather than the type of property. As the average cost of these “commercial” installations is only slightly higher than the domestic category, it seems unlikely that they relate solely to non-domestic properties where larger systems are the norm.

Government data for consumption of electricity within local districts (Section 6) offers a clear distinction between domestic and non-domestic premises by reference to the class of meter in the property. The MCS Dashboard could be greatly improved if it holds this information.

Large solar projects (above 50kW) are excluded from MCS data and present a separate challenge in tracking. Those that require planning permission are listed on the government’s Renewable Energy Planning Database, which draws on the planning platforms of each local council.

However, planning permission has been required only for projects that exceed a threshold of one megawatt (MW), thereby exempting the great majority. And in November 2023 the government announced its intention to waive this planning threshold altogether, except for projects located in a conservation area or National Park.

A further potential source is the Embedded Capacity Register published by the Distribution Network Operator for each region. These registers record connection agreements in force (or offered) for generation and storage of electricity. However, in the SSEN register for our region almost 20% of the entries between 50kW and 1MW are “redacted” on grounds that they are deemed to be owned by an individual, as opposed to an organisation. A small number of these are located in Winchester District.

Information on non-domestic installations is also gathered by bodies having a specialist interest and contacts within the solar industry, leading to publication of national data. Unless disaggregated figures are released, local districts will have to resort to estimates based on the planning database, visual evidence, and local media coverage for those employers who opt to publicise their green credentials.

This black hole of data is regrettable because commercial rooftop solar is rightly perceived as playing a key role in achieving the government’s 2035 target for grid decarbonisation. Larger premises enjoy significant economy of scale in the cost of rooftop installations. And property owners reluctant to commit capital can benefit from innovative packages to lease their roof space to developers.

end of page 5

Register of non-domestic installations (above 50kW) – work in progress

Given these shortcomings of available data, this is the best I can offer for Winchester District. Content of this Table is not verified and there are almost certainly some omissions.

Table 3: Non-domestic solar in Winchester District (above 50kW)

LocationCapacity (kilowatt-kW)
 RooftopGround-based
Completed  
Sparsholt College180 
Winchester Sport and Leisure Park152 
Vaultex Multi-Storey Car Park (Winchester)161 
Marwell Zoo95 
Biffa Waste (Winchester)60 
Whiteley Shopping Centre340 
Whiteley Cinema80 
Hoare Construction Group, Titchfield Lane, Wickham170 
Portsmouth Water, Worlds End Pumping Station, Hambledon 1,500** (this figure was awarded planning permission. The constructed site may be significantly less.
East Stoke Farm52 
Corhampton Lane Farm143 
Jude’s Ice-cream, Twyford75 
Planning permission granted (or notified as not required)  
Garsons Titchfield (garden centre), Whiteley210 
Fusion 1, Parkway, Whiteley (Praxis Real Estate Management)190 
Fusion 3, Parkway, Whiteley (Praxis Real Estate Management)220 
TUV, Unit 10, Concorde Park, Whiteley50 
M3 Moto Service Station, Itchen Valley95 
Planning response pending  
IBM (Hursley) 560
Uncertain Status  
Silverlake Garage, Shedfield  
Boomtown Not known but the company’s intention has been stated

end of page 6

Car Park solar

There are no known solar installations greater than 50kW associated with car park canopies in Winchester District, either constructed or in the pipeline (the Vaultex project is more akin to a rooftop installation than a canopy). This is an interesting new sector for solar, recognised by the government in its planning rules statement in November 2023.

An impressive 3.5MW car park solar development is under way in a neighbouring district at Portsmouth Lakeside North Harbour.  This might be an inspiration for the forthcoming masterplan for Station Approach, a major development around the vicinity of Winchester Station that encompasses multiple existing car park sites.

Community Energy

There are no known community energy installations of solar pv in Winchester District.

Concorde Way – Case Study

Table 3 excludes properties in Concorde Way, Whiteley, as they merit separate discussion. Concorde Way is the Champs-Elysees of industrial sites in Winchester District. Large warehouse-style units in green and spacious surrounds, completed in the last 10-15 years, have attracted a dream tenant list of major global corporations, almost all of which espouse impressive commitment to sustainability. However, an aerial view reveals unfulfilled potential for rooftop solar:

Concorde Way, Whiteley. Image: Google Maps

end of page 7

The better news is that the City Council’s planning database indicates some signs of action:

Table 4: Register for Concorde Way ( anti-clockwise around the site)

Address if knownOccupantRooftop Solar Status (kW)
  ConstructedPermission granted (or waived)No known plans (estimate)
 Turbomeca UK (Safran Helicopters) 1,040 
 Cooper Vision  1,500
Octagon HouseTUD Services (UK) Ltd 415 
 Thales DIS UK  400
Unit 1, TrilogySaab Seaeye 95 
Unit 2, TrilogyBusiness Post  95
Unit 3, Trilogy??  150
Bear HouseGMK Ltd160  
 ??  250
Concorde HouseJ&B Hopkins50  
Totals 210kW1,550kW2,395kW

Although there are no connection agreements for these addresses in the SSEN Embedded Capacity Register, the recent planning applications suggest that capacity is available (or that the applicants can utilise all the solar generation onsite). Those companies featuring in the final column should be pressed to keep up with their neighbours and invest in rooftop solar.

Concorde Way is situated between Concorde Close and Concorde Park, each hosting similar industrial buildings but on a slightly smaller scale. Concorde Park was completed as recently as 2020 and offers a vivid illustration of the opportunity cost of not installing solar panels as an integral part of property development. Instead, we’re likely to see piecemeal retrofit as each tenant (or owner) incurs the installation costs that could have been avoided.

Concorde Park, Whiteley. Image: Rightmove

end of page 8

In fairness to the developer, Kingsbridge, its most recent planning submission for a very similar project at Ferne Park promises a transformation in the roofscape. This site is very close to Concorde Park, but lies outside Winchester District.

As a very rough estimate, I suggest that these three Concorde industrial parks could accommodate up to 10MW of rooftop solar capacity. This is equivalent to a small solar farm, with no real concerns relating to visual intrusion, loss of biodiversity or farmland.

This area of Whiteley is a quirk in the geography of Winchester District, a sliver of land south of the M27. Yet it must be a vital reference point for projections of commercial solar within the District as a whole. If rapid progress at meaningful scale fails to happen across these Concorde addresses, rooftop solar may be destined to make a very modest contribution to local grid decarbonisation.

3. Solar farms

Table 5: Operational solar farms in Winchester District (end of 2022)

AddressParishOperatorOperationalInstalled Capacity (MW)
Raglington Farm, Botley Road,ShedfieldNext Energy Solar Fund20135.8
Whitehill Lane, AlresfordBishops SuttonLightsource Renewable Energy201412.0
Southwick Estate, Belney LaneSouthwickBluefield Solar Income Fund201548.0
Field House Farm, HursleyHursleyForesight20156.4
Winchester Road, Bishops WalthamBishop’s WalthamSolafields20176.0*
Forest Farm, Winchester Road, Waltham ChaseBishop’s WalthamNext Energy Solar Fund20173.0
  Total Megawatts (MW)81.2
*approved capacity was 12MW but the site was not constructed in full. This figure is an estimate

Source: DESNZ Renewable Energy Planning Database: January 2024

In February 2023 Enviromena posted a news item announcing that its 25MW solar farm at Three Maids Hill in Headbourne Worthy parish had been switched on.

The Renewable Energy Planning Database is a valuable resource for solar farms but it assumes that the capacity approved in the planning permission has been constructed in full. As shown in the Table above, this is not always the case. The database also implies that the installed capacity remains unchanged for the lifetime of the development. In practice the performance of solar panels declines by a very small percentage each year. There may also be times when the grid connection is unable to receive the full output.

end of page 9

Table 6: Pipeline solar farms in Winchester District

AddressParishOperatorInstalled Capacity Notes
Planning permission granted    
Locks FarmBishop’s WalthamNext Power18MWPermission granted March 2023 – construction not commenced
South Lynch EstateHursleyNovus Renewable Services20MWPermission granted February 2024 – construction not commenced
Moorshill Farm, Fontley RoadWickhamJardin Smith International3MWPermission granted 2017 and renewed 2020. Construction incomplete.
Awaiting planning decision    
Denmead FarmDenmeadEnso50MWSite is shared with East Hampshire district
Planning applications pending    
5 parcels of land off Titchfield Lane. Connection point is at Higglers Farm.WickhamConradArea is 69 hectares. Connection agreement for 50MW solar and battery storageScreening decision allows application to proceed without a full environmental impact assessment.
Glebe Farm, Waltham ChaseBishop’s WalthamEthical Power10MW (includes battery storage)Parish consultation due April 2024.
Project Withdrawn    
Funtley Landfill, Titchfield LaneWickham 10MWWithdrawn September 2023

It is believed that there are at least three further sites in Winchester District that have secured a grid connection agreement with SSEN, for a capacity that could potentially lead to a solar farm application.

City Council officers deserve credit for getting to grips with the complexities of planning regulations for solar farms, steering councillors on the planning committee towards approving plans for Locks Farm and South Lynch Estate. Together these will almost double the generation of existing solar farms listed in Table 5.

Local Authorities and solar farms

Winchester City Council published a tender in December 2022 for a consultant to advise on “site identification and business plan development” for a “utility scale renewable energy generation scheme,” with a six-month time frame. The fee quoted was between £10,000 and £100,000. Buro Happold was appointed.

end of page 10

It emerged that the City Council was hoping to identify a suitable site for a 50MW solar farm, as one of the priorities of its Carbon Neutrality Action Plan.

It was never clear whether this ambition related to land owned by the Council nor why it was necessary to engage a consultant, given that so many of the major renewable energy developers actively seek out suitable sites across the UK – and waste no time in approaching the landowners with offers to arrange a feasibility study.

At the time of writing no report has emerged from Buro Happold, nor any disclosure of the fees incurred. Through 2023 the project veered off in surprising directions, including the engagement of Community Energy South, two public events to “explore the different types of renewable energy” and a survey of public attitudes.

There is wide recognition that enabling development of a solar farm on land owned by a local authority can deliver stable financial returns and a big step towards its net zero goals. If Winchester City Council owns land suitable for ground-based solar, it should be confident of winning public support and hasten any specialist advice on project design that Buro Happold can provide.

Hampshire County Council has even more reason to take note; its finances are in poor shape, its climate ambition modest, with little progress to report. The Council is a major landowner and, in times of need, might be expected to seek greater returns from its assets, with equal vigour to cutting valued public services. In Winchester District the Compton Estate merits close attention, with areas that may be suitable for large-scale solar. Proximity to the proposed development of Bushfield Camp and to the Sainsbury’s site offer potential for innovative partnerships on renewable energy.

4. Other Technologies

Battery Energy

Battery energy storage is an integral component of decarbonisation of the electricity grid, mitigating the intermittency of wind and solar generation. The UK Battery Strategy published in November 2023 projects a tenfold increase in battery energy storage by 2030, then doubling by 2035 in order to achieve the goal of grid decarbonisation by that date. The nature of the technology compels this growth to be widely distributed in its geography.

Table 7 records the status of large stand-alone battery systems in our District. There is no available data for batteries installed in parallel with domestic or non-domestic rooftop solar installations.

end of page 11

Table 7: Battery Energy Storage Systems in Winchester District

AddressParish/WardOperatorInstalled Capacity
Operational   
Land adjoining Harestock Sub-StationSt BarnabasWinchester Power10MW
Down FarmHursleyConrad17MW
Planning permission granted   
Land south of Ash Farm, Titchfield LaneWickhamBalanced Grid Solutions64MW
Planning applications pending   
Silkstead FarmHursleyWinchester Energy Reserve50MW

It is believed that there are at least three further sites in Winchester District that have secured a grid connection agreement with SSEN for capacity that could lead to a battery energy storage application.

Winchester’s contribution in Table 7 is pitifully small in relation to the ambition of the government’s strategy. Every parish and ward in the District, including those in the South Downs National Park, needs to come to terms with finding a suitable site for at least one of these installations.

A rational scenario is to co-locate battery energy storage with solar farms. To date in Winchester District we have the irrational picture of total exclusion of batteries from our operational solar farms. In several instances, the logical battery component was withdrawn from the plans to placate objections.

Many of these objections expressed fears of extreme risks of fire and potentially fatal air or water pollution, risks that have been inflated by national campaigns against solar farms. The UK solar and battery industries have been conspicuous by their silence and should be far more proactive in reassuring local councils, fire services and utilities about the safety standards of their products. And local communities should recognise that within the space of a decade or two we will spend much of our daily lives in close proximity to large batteries, much closer than those located in a solar farm.

Anaerobic digestion

In May 2023 planning permission was granted to Acorn Bioenergy for a major anaerobic digestion project at Three Maids Hill, adjacent to the new solar farm (Section 3 above). This is now under construction.

A much older similar project approved for Ecotricity at Sparsholt College awaits construction.

end of page 12

Solar Thermal

There are 192 installations of solar thermal technology registered for Winchester District in the MCS database, mostly dating from 2011-2016.

Wind, Hydro and Biomass

There are less than ten registered installations for these technologies combined and they are all very small. In common with the national picture, there is no evidence that the so-called relaxation in onshore wind planning regulations, announced by the government in September 2023, has triggered any meaningful projects in our District. The government has not yet explained why planning conditions for wind turbines should be more restrictive than those for other generation technologies, including fossil fuels.

5. Local generation of electricity

Table 8: Generation of electricity from installations in Winchester District

 Total Installed Capacity (MW)Annual Generation (gigawatt hours)
201682.879.8
201792.485.6
201893.092.1
201995.391.7
202096.192.5
202197.587.9
2022100.394.4

Source (DESNZ, formerly BEIS):  Regional Renewable Statistics September 2022

These figures are all solar pv. Installations of other technologies are too small to register on this scale. Annual solar generation is determined by the sun’s radiation (insolation) which varies from year to year, occasionally by as much as 10%. This explains the dip in generation in 2021, despite the increased capacity available.

The dip was restored in 2022. Nonetheless, the overall increase in local generation from renewable sources of only 18% over the six years covered by the Table is disappointingly sluggish in the context of a climate emergency.

When the 2023 figures are published later this year, they should include the new 25MW Three Maids Hill solar farm, boosting total local capacity by 25%. By contrast, the record number of almost 1,000 new domestic installations in 2023 (Table 1) will add only 5%.

end of page 13

Data Issues

The government source of this data offers no breakdown between utility scale solar farms and rooftop solar but Table 5 indicates that the former category contributes over 80% of total capacity in Winchester District.

It is difficult to find data for the output of individual solar farms, but their efficiency should be greater than rooftop installations where the optimum orientation and pitch of the solar panels is inevitably constrained.

Much of the generation of rooftop solar is consumed, or stored in a battery for later consumption, by the occupant of the premises. This cycle is embedded “behind-the-meter” and not readily available for data collection. However, surplus rooftop generation exported to the grid can be captured through payment records of the Smart Export Guarantee.

Difficulty in tracking what happens “behind-the-meter” may become more relevant over time. Non-domestic installations are increasing in scale, not only on rooftops but through ground-based and car park canopy schemes that are either onsite or close enough to connect by “direct wire”. Poor overall data for non-domestic installations (Section 2) aggravates this concern.

A decarbonised electricity grid in the UK will depend on the most intricate balancing of supply and demand. Capturing every data point will make a difference.

6. Local consumption of electricity

Table 9: Electricity consumption (gigawatt hours per annum)

 DomesticNon-domesticTotal
2016229.4364.0593.4
2017228.0369.4597.4
2018226.5368.4594.8
2019227.0357.0583.9
2020244.4311.1555.5
2021236.2323.3559.5
2022218.5331.2549.7

There were 56,161 domestic meters and 5,934 non-domestic meters in Winchester District at the end of 2022. Consumption data is compiled from meter readings.

Source (DESNZ, formerly BEIS): Local Authority Electricity Consumption Statistics (January 2024).

end of page 14

The number of domestic meters has increased by about 10% over this period, explained partly by the increase in population. Nonetheless, the modest fall in local demand for electricity is a concern, given the increased efficiency of appliances.

As explained in the previous section, behind-the-meter consumption may be excluded from these figures, for both domestic and non-domestic categories.

Data Centre

Government figures for local electricity consumption exclude data for very large industrial companies. These large consumers are supplied through dedicated high voltage lines with independent contractual arrangements.

Apart from the railway, Winchester District has no known heavy industry in this category but it does host a notable data centre, powered by a dedicated onsite SSEN substation. “Housing 4,500 machines across 580 racks,” the Hursley site is described by IBM UK as its “flagship cloud data centre.” In contradiction of its own raison d’etre, the facility’s electricity consumption “data” is not disclosed.

Even before the explosion of interest in Artificial Intelligence applications, there was concern about the gargantuan appetite of data centres for electricity, and the reluctance of their owners to disclose the details. A National Grid 2022 paper estimated that “there are between 400-600 known commercial data centres in Britain……..accounting for 2.5% of the UK’s electricity consumption.”

The presence of a data centre in a rural district is a material consideration for any local net zero strategy that aims to generate electricity on a scale comparable to local consumption. My back-of-the-envelope estimate is that the Hursley centre demands electricity equivalent to the output of a small solar farm.  IBM has recently applied for planning permission to convert one of the car parks on the Hursley site to a ground-based solar installation. Although a welcome development, its scale is not remotely comparable to the onsite demand. Plans recently approved for a solar farm on the South Lynch estate, a couple of miles away in the same parish, are much closer to the mark.

As a major UK company, IBM UK is obliged to publish its total electricity consumption and sustainability plans to eliminate its carbon footprint. The latest annual report states that “in 2022 approximately 97% of the electricity consumed across IBM UK Limited operations came from renewable sources.”

These “renewable sources” are not disclosed. They may be credible or they may fall into offset categories notorious for loopholes and double-counting. Disclosure of detail, national and local, is the simple path to reassurance and local planning.

7. Progress?

The final columns of Tables 8 and 9 demonstrate that local supply of electricity makes a very small contribution to local demand. Our District is importing most of its electricity.

end of page 15

Table 10: Contribution of local generation to local demand for electricity

Growth in the contribution of local generation in relation to demand in Winchester District is almost imperceptible, despite the sharply rising trend of rooftop solar installations.

Every district should aspire to match local supply with local demand, supported by accurate data, as its contribution to the government’s target to decarbonise the electricity grid by 2035. It is clear from Table 10 that this target compels rapid growth in solar farms and onshore wind generation. Importing electricity on the current scale in Winchester District will become untenable unless other districts willingly allocate more land for generation than is required for their own consumption, an unlikely scenario in the south of England.

These facts of life about local electricity futures are poorly understood. Councils obsessively focus on reducing local emissions, whilst underestimating the need and urgency of increasing clean electricity.

end of page 16

Sadly, this failure to distinguish the two separate goals necessary to deliver net zero UK has been hardcoded into the Carbon Neutrality Action Plan 2023-2030 published by Winchester City Council in December 2023. This plan emerged from a major review of its 2020 predecessor, guided by a tender for creating a climate action roadmap to 2030, awarded to consultants WSP.

Much valuable input from WSP has been jeopardised by its flawed mathematics that include solar projects in the calculation of local emissions reduction. Projected over time, this formula could create an absurd endgame, with new solar farms driving local emissions calculations down to zero whilst local gas boilers and conventional vehicles remain in operation.

A new local solar project aggregates with all other new UK renewable projects in reducing direct emissions attributable to the national electricity grid. Emissions relating to local electricity consumption will fall as the carbon intensity of the grid reduces. The local emissions inventory should be debited only with the latter.

This flaw in the WSP roadmap overstates the District’s progress towards carbon neutrality and, in consequence, grossly understates the future need for utility-scale renewable projects. This need is deemed to be the addition of a single 50MW solar farm, beyond those already at the top of the planning pipeline. As this report has shown, a credible local net zero target requires multiple solar farms and wind turbines.

The text of the updated Council plan tries to wriggle off this hook but without indicating a clear alternative target for local renewable generation. And the mathematics supporting the text reverts to an addition of only 50MW by 2030. Apart from the misleading presentation of the role of renewable energy, there must be concern about the adequacy of land use allocations in the District’s Local Plan, currently under review.

Winchester City Council is far from alone amongst its peers in this double-counting or in the absence of a clear goal for electricity generation, distinct from reducing emissions. A wise approach for all Councils would be to differentiate their plans, resources and governance for local electricity generation.

The expertise, funding, partners and timelines are inherently different. Local authority powers relating to electricity generation are significantly greater than those to cut emissions. Serious investors are queueing up for solar and wind developments, whilst housebuilders have a track record of denial of investment in net zero.

I have avoided reference to a Local Area Energy Plan (LAEP) because the concept as yet lacks a clear definition, despite its wide adoption, including by Winchester City Council. This may be a scenario for yet more consultancy inroads into the efforts of local authorities.

The UK government has belatedly increased the separation of its own net zero plans through the British Energy Security Strategy and the Powering Up Britain: Energy Security Plan, published in April 2022 and April 2023 respectively. A roadmap for the UK target of 70MW solar by 2035 is promised by the Solar Task Force for “spring 2024”. It is vital that this national roadmap articulates an informed granular vision of its local components.

******

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *