Pioneering councils complete £2.8m carbon-cutting solar investment

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Over 100 council car parking spaces in Sudbury and Stowmarket have been covered with solar panels to help power and reduce carbon emissions at two council-owned leisure centres.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils have finished building solar carports over more than 110 of their existing car parking spaces to help power two of their leisure centres.

They are among the UK’s first rural local authorities to trial the technology, which will reduce the centres’ reliance on the grid and cut carbon emissions.

Seventy solar carports are located at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket, providing up to almost 24% of the centre’s annual electricity demand. The remaining 40 are located at Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury, providing over 16% of its annual electricity demand.

Each site also includes battery storage so excess energy produced during sunnier periods can be saved for later, as well as eight electric vehicle charging points, including two rapid chargers.

The carports, installed by East Anglia-based Polysolar, will generate a combined 292,000 kilowatts (kWh) a year. This equates to a combined annual reduction of 62 tonnes of carbon emissions (CO2e) produced by the centres.

The works cost £1.4m which was funded by £800k match funding from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ Getting Building Fund (awarded by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership). This was topped up by a combined £650k from the councils.

The scheme is part of a wider £2.8m overall investment in solar across the councils’ four leisure centres. Last year, they also installed 1,278 solar panels on the centres’ roofs, along with other energy saving measures — paid for by £1.4m in grants from the Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.

Together, the solar carports and roof solar panels are now producing nearly 50% of Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre’s annual electricity demand, and just over 30% of Kingfisher Leisure Centre’s. In total, 380 solar panels at Hadleigh Pool & Leisure are also producing 40% its demand.

This means that each of the three centres has been able to slash reliance on the grid by close to half, at a time when the cost-of-living crisis sees them playing their part as warm spaces for residents in need.

Cllr Jessica Fleming, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for environment, said: “Completing our solar carports marks a significant milestone in a multi-million-pound investment to reduce the carbon footprint at our leisure centres.

“We hope that by being among the first rural UK councils to trial this technology in our districts, we will encourage others to follow suit. And, if it’s successful, we’ll look at how we might be able to roll out this technology at more of our sites, making best use of space, over coming years.

“By also introducing 8 new EV charging points, the carports will also help more residents to transition to electric vehicles — helping to reduce pollution and ensuring Mid Suffolk’s greener future as a place people are proud to call home.”

Cllr Jane Gould, Babergh District Council’s cabinet member for climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable transport, said: “It’s exciting we’ve now finished our 40 solar covered car parking spaces in Sudbury, which sees us introduce an additional 8 EV charging points.

“Installing this infrastructure not only demonstrates our forward-looking approach for the town, but also our commitment to tackling climate change and our emissions.

“Our district, and the wider county, are a natural fit for solar, enjoying more sun hours than the rest of the UK. So, by leading the way in driving clean growth and technology, we hope others will be inspired and learn from our example.

“I firmly believe this, among our other work and commitments, will help ensure Babergh continues to be a place in which people are proud to live and work for years to come.”

C-J Green, Chair of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Reducing our reliance on the grid and switching to clean energy is essential if our region is to fulfil its future clean growth ambitions. It is fantastic to see two of our local authorities leading the way through this innovative technology which will reduce emissions from these two centres and on the roads.”

The carports were looked at holistically, as part of the wider town visions for the districts. This ensured the project was joined up with the councils’ parking strategy, wayfinding improvements, and work to increase active travel.

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