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The power to do good

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One of the pioneers of local government was Birmingham mayor Joseph Chamberlain, who during the Victorian era modernised a city.

More from: LGC View: Energy

Winston Churchill later described him as “the one who made the weather” because of his ability to come up with imaginative solutions to the issues his community faced.

Tired of streets being dug up by the two local gas firms he got the council to buy both; the first year of business saw a £34,000 profit for the city.

Once again, local government is driving radical innovations to solve Britain’s energy problems - highlighted by the row over price hikes by utility firms.

Councils across the UK are not only tackling the immediate issue of stimulating competition for domestic energy prices but pushing on with ideas that will reduce dependence on fossil fuels and even generate revenue.

The common thread is using local resources, creating a sound business plan and working with partners to create long-term revenue.

Geography has a critical role in shaping policy as it dictates which energy source will be exploited.

Cheshire East Council is situated above one of just six sites in the UK that can harness geothermal energy from deep underground. The Department for Energy and Climate Change is giving its support to the project.

What started as an exercise aimed at helping end fuel poverty for the poorest residents is now a core part of the authority’s future business model.

Council leader Michael Jones says: “It’s not rhetoric - we’re here to deliver for our residents. Clearly, if there is money to be made - and we believe there is - it would go back to the people as it’s their business.”

A stumbling block has been public opinion, which in many places is wary about the impact of wind turbines on the landscape. Here, too, councils are making an impact. After a series of planning applications for wind turbines, Mendip DC members have launched an inquiry to separate fact from myth and address local residents’ concerns.

Tracy Aarons, corporate manager for the built environment at Mendip DC, says: “People are very openminded and embracing of new things. We’re doing this out of respect for the local environment. We’re looking at everything - including whether there needs to be more education.”

While such energy generation projects are being developed, there are ways to cut costs immediately. Levering discounts in the domestic market through large scale switching campaigns has been embraced by councils.

Nottingham City Council, which has worked with its university to promote sustainability, is one of them.

Cllr Alan Clark, portfolio holder for energy and sustainability, says: “Energy is becoming a more and more expensive part of the family budget and we know that very soon temperatures will be dropping. We have to ask ‘why aren’t people switching?”

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