Leaders in Carmarthenshire want to install wind turbines and solar farms on council-owned land as part of a new plan to become net carbon zero by 2030.
Executive board members have approved a plan to become carbon neutral in four areas initially – non-domestic buildings, like leisure centres and schools; fleet mileage, such as refuse lorries; business mileage – car journeys taken by employees; and street lighting.
Targets will be developed as part of an annual review of the action plan, and other initiatives are likely to be added in due course.
The move follows a meeting last February in which councillors declared a climate emergency, committed the authority to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and required an action plan within 12 months.
Carbon neutral and net carbon zero mean the same thing, namely that the council would still use fossil fuels in its day-to-day operations – although it aims to reduce their use – but offset its emissions with measures like renewable energy generation and potentially tree planting.
Introducing the net zero carbon plan, Councillor Cefin Campbell, executive board for communities and rural affairs, said: “It is a huge challenge, and it is one that we are taking seriously as a local authority.”
The council has reduced its energy use in recent years – and the electricity it buys in is from renewable sources.
But council officers estimate it would still take 59 wind turbines as big as the one at Nantycaws household waste recycling centre, or just under 250,000 solar panels, to offset the current carbon emissions from non-domestic buildings, street lighting, and fleet and business mileage.
Although the council has a lot of land, it has long been frustrated at what it says are poor connections to the local electricity grid – a matter beyond its control.
Officers are working with a Welsh Government body to explore large-scale renewable energy schemes, and discussing the grid constraints with Western Power Distribution and leaders in Cardiff Bay.
The report acknowledges, however, that wind turbine and solar farm projects require considerable upfront finance and take a while to deliver.
Carmarthenshire Council’s fleet of diesel-powered vehicles travelled just under five million miles last year, which was a small decrease from the previous year.
Strangely, the carbon emissions from these trips actually increased by a tiny fraction due to a change in the way in which this diesel-to-carbon-emission metric is measured.
But fleet mileage carbon emissions have decreased overall by 19% since 2012-13.
Council employees travelled a total of just over 3.8 million miles for work purposes in 2018-19 – again a small decrease – and fleet mileage carbon emissions have been cut by 36% since 2012-13.
Carbon emissions from non-domestic buildings have also declined in recent years.
The most energy-hungry of these buildings is Carmarthen Leisure Centre.
And carbon emissions from street lights have been slashed by two-thirds because most of the authority’s 20,000 street lights have been replaced by more energy efficient LED lights.
The council has been and will continue to make non-domestic buildings more energy efficient, increase home and agile working, and shrink its property portfolio where appropriate.
Its new schools and council houses will also be energy efficient – in some causes to the highest, Passivhaus standard, where affordable.
It also proposes to convert the 4,300 street lights it maintains on behalf of town and community councils at the end of their operational life to energy efficient LED lights.
Meanwhile, underused fleet vehicles will continue to be removed from service, and a review is being carried out to see if more pool cars would reduce the incentive for employees to use their own cars for work purposes.
Planting trees and enhancing peatland areas could take place, depending on whether the Welsh Government says these actions qualify as valid offsetting.
The council will also work with public and private sector partners in the Swansea Bay City Region on low-carbon projects, and hold meetings with town and community councils.
Cllr Campbell said rugby and football clubs could also be part of the net zero carbon plans, which will be debated by full council.
“It’s only the beginning of the hard work that we will carry on in the next 10 years,” said Cllr Campbell.