Move to cushion city against energy price rises delayed 

Delays have hit a plan to boost renewable power in Bristol and “take control of the city’s energy supply”. 

Rising costs since the war in Ukraine have left council bosses searching for cheaper ways to power public sector buildings, after their energy bills doubled.

Wind turbines and a solar farm in Avonmouth, owned by Bristol City Council, generate about 4.3 megawatts of renewable energy. But with the way the market normally works, this energy is sold to the National Grid, and then later bought back by the council at a higher price.

A new deal, known as “sleeving”, would mean the council effectively using that energy directly, slashing bills for taxpayers. City Hall chiefs would buy the same amount of energy at wholesale prices as was generated by council-owned wind turbines and solar panels.

A small sleeving deal is already in place, powering about a third of the council’s energy supply. The council is trying to set up a much wider deal, which could eventually see local renewable energy generation power other public sector buildings, such as  schools and hospitals. This was due to be signed off in September, but has now been pushed back at least a year.

During a cabinet meeting on June 6, Councillor Kye Dudd, cabinet member for climate, said: “The current sleeving arrangement uses the council’s own renewable generation assets — our wind turbines and solar farms — to meet around one third of our current energy demand, using low cost, zero carbon electricity. This has saved an estimated 2,021 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since August 2022, compared with a conventional supply contract from the National Grid.”

Energy prices have risen dramatically since the war in Ukraine, causing widespread high inflation and the cost of living crisis, but also hitting local authorities. Bristol City Council’s energy bills doubled from £6.2 million in 2020/21 to £14.5 million in the last financial year. With a sleeving deal, the council would be protected from future energy shocks and sharp increases in prices.

The council’s energy contracts come to an end in September this year. The original plan was to replace these with the broader sleeving deal, but delays have hit the new contract as “technical and commercial details still need to be worked out”. It’s understood that there is a lack of appetite among energy supplier companies to sign up to the deal.

The cabinet has now decided to extend the current contracts by another year, hoping that the new sleeving arrangement will be in place by October 2024. 

Cllr Nicola Beech, cabinet member for strategic planning, resilience and floods, said: “It’s not been easy at all to get these things moving in the current market. But the best piece of resilience we can bring to our city is that we’re in control of our energy generation and supply, so we have a closed loop system in the city. That’s essentially what sleeving is doing.

“We’ve just got to ramp up generation across the city and make sure we can power our buildings at a carbon free, low cost option. It’s one of the best interventions we can bring. We have the skills in the city, we have the generation capacity and we have the need. It’s a brilliant incentive but I know it’s been really difficult, we’ve just got to keep going with it.”

The City Leap deal, a renewable energy contract launched this March, will invest in building new wind turbines, solar farms and other generators. Council bosses said City Leap would lead to a massive extra 180 megawatts of renewable energy generation in Bristol.

By Alex Seabrook Local Democracy Reporting Service