Councils pilot solar carports in drive to reduce carbon emissions

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Two Suffolk councils are to pilot solar carports to help power their leisure centres and reduce their carbon emissions as part of plans to tackle climate change.

Phased works to install 70 solar carports at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket are now underway, with the installation of an additional 40 carports at Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury due to fully start in January 2022.

The schemes form part of a £2.8m investment in solar at Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils’ leisure centres: £1.4m for the solar carports pilot and a further £1.4m to install solar panels and other energy-saving measures at the leisure centres.

The carport technology, to be installed by East Anglia-based Polysolar, will provide energy to help run the centres. As well as battery storage and several electric vehicle charging points, which will be available in both regular and accessible bays, including two rapid chargers at each site.

This initiative forms part of the councils’ Carbon Reduction Management Plan, and is being funded by over £600k from the authorities on top of £800k of Government match funding from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ Getting Building Fund. Awarded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the match funding is to help deliver jobs, skills, and infrastructure in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chris Starkie, Chief Executive of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Our ambition is to be the UK’s clean growth region, so we are delighted to support the trial of this innovative technology in Babergh and Mid Suffolk. These carports should significantly reduce carbon emissions from the councils’ leisure centres while encouraging more sustainable journeys on our roads. It is another example of our region leading the way when it comes to clean energy.”

Among the first rural UK councils trialling the technology, the councils’ hope is that by championing innovation, their example will encourage others to follow suit. The carports are expected to be completed by Spring 2022.

The schemes have been looked at holistically, as part of the wider town visions for the districts. This ensures other projects and local initiatives — such as the councils’ parking strategy, wayfinding improvements and active travel schemes — are joined up.

All car parking spaces will be retained once the schemes are complete, and work at both sites is being phased to avoid unnecessary disruption.

Cllr Jessica Fleming, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for environment, said: “I am very pleased that this work has started as it will reduce the carbon footprint at our leisure centres — one of our highest emitters. This project is one of several taking place at council leisure centres to make them more energy efficient and, in the long term, less expensive to operate.

“This project provides an example of how new technology can be used to the advantage of both users and operators of public facilities, using fixed assets to generate electricity that makes best use of available space and provides a convenient way for electric vehicle users to recharge.

“Encouraging sustainable travel and improving air quality in the district, while making sure our towns are places people want to visit, is fundamental in supporting a greener future and vision for our communities.”

Cllr Elisabeth Malvisi, Babergh District Council’s cabinet member for climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable transport, said:
“This project clearly demonstrates our forward-looking approach for our towns. We want them to thrive, by leading the way when it comes to clean growth and technology – and this is just one of the ways we’re doing that.

“Suffolk, and Babergh, are a natural fit for solar, receiving more sun hours on average than the rest of the UK. And this project will help ensure Babergh continues to be a place in which people are proud to live and work for years to come.”

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