With the Barkham solar farm planning application set to be considered at planning committee soon, Wokingham Borough Council continues to show its commitment to helping lower carbon emissions across the borough, tackle the climate emergency and become carbon net zero by 2030.
But it’s not just about big projects like the new solar farm, the council is keen to see smaller sustainable energy schemes put into place, such as installing solar panels on a range of its properties including schools, offices, and community sites, or making its new buildings as energy efficient as possible.
“The climate emergency is one of the biggest issues facing us globally and it’s important that we all do our bit. Recent events, such as the floods in Germany, or the wildfires in Greece, or the continued rising costs of food and energy, show that we aren’t immune to the impacts of global warming,” said Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for resident services, communications and emissions. “We all need to work together to make changes to the way we live and work and, as a council, we’re a big part of this and want to take an active role in tackling our properties and carbon footprint. That’s why we are continuing to look at ways to improve our own properties and make them more energy efficient”
Part of this work has included undertaking extensive energy performance assessments on all of the council’s operational properties. Helping the council’s energy team to understand how individual buildings are performing and targeting a range of improvements including low energy LED lighting and high levels of insulation.
Work is also being undertaken to retrofit many of the council buildings with new solar photovoltaic panels (PV) to help generate sustainable renewable energy on site. This power can then be used to help power the buildings or sold back into the national grid, offsetting the cost of running the properties as well as helping reduce local carbon emissions.
To date the council has installed solar arrays on multiple properties, including three quarters of all their schools and half of the corporate outreach buildings which include libraries, youth and community centres and offices. Panels have also been installed on new building projects such as the shops at Peach Place and Elms Field, Bulmershe Leisure Centre and the new Dinton Activity Centre. The new Dinton Activity Centre is also the council’s first net carbon zero building and joins a range of fantastic green initiatives across the Dinton site such as the solar powered water aerator in the fishing lake which was installed in 2019.
Cllr Murray continued: “When we first submitted our plans for a new solar farm at Barkham we had a lot of residents asking us why we didn’t install solar panels on existing buildings, like our schools and offices, instead. The answer is that we have already been doing this for years, and it’s something we will continue to do as we work to achieve our vision of a greener borough.
“It’s also something we are keen to see happen wider, which is why we are looking to make our planning policies even greener through the next Local Plan and are supporting the creation of the new Wokingham Community Energy company which will work with local businesses, as well as the council, to roll out new solar panel installations across the area.
“But retrofitting buildings isn’t always as straightforward as we might like. Many older properties simply aren’t suitable to change, with no safe access to the roof for ongoing maintenance, containing contaminants like asbestos, or as we often find, lacking the core strength to support the weight. We also know that, whilst fantastic projects, retrofitting solar panels like this on individual properties, is just a drop in the ocean of the sustainable power we need to generate if we really want to address the climate emergency. That’s why projects like the new solar farm at Barkham, which would allow us to generate enough power for thousands of local homes, are so important to our plans.”
Plans for the new Barkham solar farm are due to be considered by the council’s planning committee in the coming weeks. In addition to solar panels the proposals also include the planting of thousands of new trees and the creation of a new greenway route better linking Barkham and Finchampstead to wider public rights of way to the north of the site.