This was my 9th submission to the Strategic Finance Committee – aimed at re-starting the highly successful energy efficiency campaign halted by management in 2017, Councillors voted to create this programme of savings and we have never voted to end it. It is now 2023 and we are in a Climate Emergency. there is no excuse for delay here. Here is what I wrote/said to the Strategic Finance committee.
SENIOR RESOURCE NEEDED TO TARGET > £1 Million p.a. IN NEXT 3 YEARS
It must be obvious from my ‘New Circular Economy submissions made to the Strategic Finance Committee to date, that Council needs a senior management resource to deliver the both the savings and additional income available. This is done to great effect Councils across Ireland and England – see Louth – or Cavan or many others in the South with several energy campaigns netting a million a year . In a similar manner, dozens of Councils in England are performing miracles -see Warrington, West Suffolk and Bristol.
As we saw in West Suffolk and Dundee at the Council-sponsored Climate Change Conference at the Killeavy Hotel in March – these projects need a senior full-time senior manager at Assistant Director level with a team delivering a clear plan to deliver large money-making opportunities.
In Newry Mourne and Down District Council we had a single junior grade energy officer whose opinions were frequently over-ruled or ignored by senior managers or project leaders who delivered projects with appalling energy records like the Downpatrick and Newry Leisure Centres. The £102,812 in annual savings at the time we lost our energy officer were for retrofits of previous bad builds. If the terms of reference of the post included new build, savings would have been over ½ a million £’s per annum by this stage.
CURRENT ANNUAL SAVINGS OF £102,812pa
Click to see March 2017 Energy Savings Report – imagine what we could have done over the 6 years since this job roles was left vacant? Despite organisational and structural limitations severely handicapping the effective functioning of this role, our outstanding energy officer delivered dozens of energy and water retrofit projects which built up his savings to an annual payback of £102,812 per annum.
He covered his Council salary many times over annually. He was promoted into facilities management and there are currently no proposals to replace/upgrade this vital role.
BACKGROUND TO THE CREATION OF THE ENERGY OFFICER ROLE.
The creation of this role had been initially opposed by management in Down Council, but Councillors voted it though anyway based on visiting other Councils. Councillors proved to be right. The role evolved into a shared resource between old Newry and Mourne and old Down Council long before the merger.
There were serious structural problems with the job. As the Chief Executive and management did not have an ‘SMART’ energy efficiency target for either existing or new building projects, there was no requirement for anyone to listen to what the energy officer was saying. He was far too junior in the organisation. I tried for several years to have the design process for new buildings involve the energy officer from the earliest stage to maximise benefits to no avail.
KEY PROBLEM WITH MANDATE OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY ROLE
Getting the energy configuration right on new buildings in the first place is far more cost effective than any retrofit. The lack of a good building design process led to bad energy design decisions across our new building projects culminating with the Down and Newry Leisure Centres.
Downpatrick’s energy design was so bad I referred it to the External Auditor, Audit NI and the independent Chair of our Audit Committee. I wrote up what the figures ought to be with the correct configuration of renewables on the Leisure Centre. I predicted saving of millions of pounds over the life of the Leisure centre if built correctly and submitted it to our Financial Director with a request that she have the energy officer audit it. She duly did so and found my figures to be correct. Management forced the bad design through anyway.
The dispute around the Downpatrick Leisure Centre had a beneficial effect, as the cross-party sustainability group was able to ensure that the energy officer was given a role in the design of the new Saintfield centre. But only at a late stage, so while the input was not quite as beneficial as it might have been, but it was a big improvement over Downpatrick.
However, during 2017, the role became vacant, and despite pressure management have not filled this vital role in six years. I have received assurances that the budget for the role still exists. So the key task here is to specify the roles to attract someone as good as our last energy officer.
WORK AS YET UNDONE
When the energy officer position was discontinued, there were lots of retrofit projects waiting to be taken forward. This takes no account of what I have proposed in the other documents to the Strategic Finance Committee so far.
Examples of outstanding projects with no-one to take them forward.
There are projects needing done in every DEA. But two examples in my area were as follows.
- DPK leisure centre PV panels on roof.
Calculations are straightforward. Using 320W panels on the available space as advised by the ex-energy efficiency officer, we get 52 panels X 0.32KW = 16.64 kW installed x 850 kWh/year/kWp = 14,144kwhpa x14p = £1980.16 costing £8600 to install with an resulting payback of ~4 years,
- Another project abandoned in my area was the installation of a Tesla-style PV and battery on the soccer pavilion in Downpatrick aimed at making that unit energy independent to build experience for Council in working with automated battery systems to reduce cost.
- Clearly projects must have been suspended or abandoned in other DEAs
In my proposals to date on New Circular Economy Documents submitted to the Strategic Finance Committee, I have easily exceeded £5 million pa from obvious energy savings projects that other Councils have long been doing in England, Wales, Scotland or the Republic. We need a team to deliver these.
WHAT CAN COUNCILLORS DO TO UPGRADE OUR ENERGY PROGRAMME?
Management has a long history of making very poor decisions in this area. Councillors will have to point them in the right direction.
Aside from the early opposition to an energy officer in Down Council, management also opposed the creation of an Assistant Director of Sustainability when we were creating the organisational new structure for NM&D Council. This was the only vote we took in opposition to what management recommended. Liam Hannaway later claimed the vote did not count as we were ‘in camera’ at the time and thus no minutes were kept of the meeting. This decision was not properly challenged.
Climate Change and sustainability will spark big financial opportunities from the New Circular Economy. Council has not grasped these opportunities as Council lacks a management champion at a senior enough within the firmament of our management pyramid.
- We need to change our Council’s Culture. We must set specific monetary targets for the Chief Executive for New Circular Economy savings and revenues and make this a real focus for the senior management team. This must include a short-term energy efficiency target of £1 million pa.
- To deliver New Circular Economy targets across Council we need a full time Assistant Director with a team of technically able and informed staff to transform the revenue and cost base of Council my implementing