Lancaster City Council’s cabinet has agreed the next step of a project aiming to create locally-controlled alternative energy networks which it believes could provide cleaner and cheaper heat to the district’s homes and businesses.

Lancaster city centre, south and east Lancaster, Morecambe and Bailrigg are some of the areas identified as having the potential for new heating networks using technology which does not rely on burning gas to generate heat.

In addition to cutting emissions into the atmosphere, the council’s cabinet said developing an alternative locally-controlled energy system would help with the cost of living through providing more affordable energy prices.

The cabinet heard this week that more women than men are likely to be in poverty and struggle with the costs of heating their homes. Older women and women in single parent households are disproportionately affected, a report stated.

Leading councillors on the cabinet agreed to support funding towards a detailed feasibility study about developing a number of local ‘energy clusters’ Previous research has identified a number of areas in the district where new heat energy clusters could be set up. Factors include the volume of heat delivered to properties, the level of engagement from local residents and businesses, and the availability of low-carbon heat sources.

The cabinet has agreed to pay £40,000 towards a follow-up detailed feasibility study into the district by the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The total cost of the study is estimated at £120,000 of which two-thirds will be funded by BEIS.

Back in 2019, BEIS commissioned a heat-mapping study of the Lancaster district which identified the potential for eight separate heat network clusters. Across all the clusters, cleaner heat energy networks had the potential to remove over 100,000 tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere by reducing dependency on natural gas, the study suggested.

Following this year’s local elections. Lancaster City Council is now led by Green Party councillors with other parties including Eco-Socialists on the cabinet.

Speaking at Tuesday night’s cabinet meeting in Morecambe, Eco-Socialist Coun Kevin Frea, who is also Deputy Leader of the Council, spoke in favour of backing the detailed study by external consultants.

He said: “A really significant part of carbon emissions comes from generating heat. So there’s an urgent need to cut emissions and shift away from using gas to other solutions.

“However, small solutions for individual homes and properties are not always the best way forward. A heat network is a large network of pipes around a heat source, such as a ground source heat pump, which are connected to a number of homes. A lot of work has been done on this in cities such as Bristol.

“If the city could control a heat network then one of the opportunities could be to sell heat to local homes and businesses which would potentially be an extra income stream. However, this recommendation for the cabinet this week is about carrying out further feasibility work to look at heat networks.”

The city council’s contribution of £40,000 towards the detailed study will come from existing council funds.

Coun Frea added: “There are a number of benefits in addition to reducing carbon emissions. This could potentially help families facing fuel poverty. Air or ground source heat pumps can supply heating needs and control costs. It gets people away from inflationary energy prices in return for a pretty small investment. We will have a much better idea about the way forward through further feasibility work.”

The council also believes that carrying out more research and adopting greener technology can provide facts-based evidence to shape local planning, house building and housing developers’ use of new heating technology. It also says development of heat networks would create wider business investment and new skilled jobs, such as for heating engineers and installers.

Labour Coun Anne Whitehead said £40,000 seemed ‘rather a lot’ and asked if the cabinet and officers had any alternatives if the BEIS contribution of £80,000 became unavailable for any reason. She also said eight locations across the district had been mentioned in an early heat network report so asked for clarification on the number of networks currently being considered

A council officer said four areas had been confirmed and a written report on future potential funding could be provided.

The cabinet agreed to fund the £40,000 contribution towards the BEIS detailed feasibility study.

Lancaster City Council previously declared a climate emergency in 2019. It is committed to reaching ‘net zero emissions’ by 2030 for its own operations, meaning emissions from council buildings, vehicles and other activity will be cut or mitigated. It also aims to help the wider district towards the same goal.

A report to this week’s cabinet stated that 37 per cent of all the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by heating activity, such as gas-powered boilers used for hot water for taps and radiators in homes and business properties.

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