For information: To consider a report to the Future Oxfordshire Partnership setting out an update on some of the key projects and programmes of work across Oxfordshire with regards to energy to facilitate awareness and join-up.
The Panel considered a report to the Future Oxfordshire Partnership providing an overview of key partnership activity and programmes of work within the Oxfordshire energy space aimed at realising net zero ambitions, and/or supporting to tackle local grid constraints. Beth Wilks, Future Oxfordshire Manager introduced the report and also gave a presentation setting out:
· The Oxfordshire Strategic Vision for Long Term Sustainable Development Net Zero ambitions and challenges in the electricity network
· A snapshot of the electricity network.
· Information on Project Local Energy Oxfordshire
· Local area energy planning
· The Energy Superhub Oxford project
Members of the Panel welcomed the update and supported the recommendations.
Councillor Hicks referred to the challenges around funding acting as a significant blocker to upgrading the electricity grid and referred to Bristol City Council’s experience in securing private and climate finance for such infrastructure. Beth Wilks responded that green finance did form part of one of the prioritised actions within the Net Zero Route Map and Action Plan for which a workstream was being developed. This would consider how to enable a decarbonised energy network at a local level and would include issues around finance.
In addition, the Panel was informed that it was intended to submit a response on behalf of the Future Oxfordshire Partnership to the UK Parliament Environmental Audit Committee call for evidence relating to the enabling sustainable electrification of the UK and part of this response would include concerns around how Ofgem were approving sustainable electrification projects as well as funding issues.
In response to questions from Councllor Emily Smith regarding the end product of the energy work, its relationship to the Oxfordshire Energy Strategy, (OES), land use strategy, and links to Local Plans, Beth Wilks commented that the Local Area Energy Plans are designed to be a deliverable technical document of what is needed to support Oxfordshire’s overarching energy decarbonisation to support net zero ambitions rather than a strategy, but there was an aspiration to refresh the OES and it would be necessary to ensure there was consistency and read across between the documents. A briefing document setting out information on Local Area Energy Planning was currently being drafted, and this could be circulated to the Panel when finalised.
With regard to a land use framework or land use principles, this had been an area of feedback coming out of the Oxfordshire Strategic Vision engagement exercise in order to support the range of different ambitions around the use of land, be that around decarbonisation, food production, rewilding, access to green space etc. Currently there was not a framework or list of agreed land use principles across Oxfordshire. The suggestion was one of the ideas within the opportunities for joint working portfolio.
With regard to the funding used to support the Project LEO scheme, Officers agreed to look into this and respond to members outside of the meeting.
In further discussion, members suggested that opportunities around heat transfer in energy generation should be explored further, especially given the number of data centres being built across the county. It was also important for local planning authorities to take a more strategic approach to solar generation across the county as residents were more likely to be comfortable with such developments if they arose out of a structured process which took account of local concerns rather than speculative proposals.
Members of the Panel also reiterated its view that provision of rooftop solar on new and existing properties should be prioritised over provision on previously undeveloped land.
With regard to roof top solar, the Panel was advised that one of the prioritised actions within the Net Zero Route Map and Action Plan was around developing a potential collective purchasing approach that would support the widespread deployment of roof top solar on existing buildings.
Finally, the Panel was informed that the initial scope of the next iteration of the Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy was currently being considered and it was recognised that currently there was a comparative lack of energy projects or projects that would support Oxfordshire’s energy decarbonisation aspirations.
RESOLVED: The Panel recommended to the Future Oxfordshire Partnership that it agree the recommendations set out in the report with the following additions:
1. That through the Green Finance workstream of the Net Zero Route Map and Action Plan, consideration be given to funding opportunities which support a decarbonised energy system; the Scrutiny Panel wishes for the workstream to consider Bristol City Council’s success in securing £1bn of investment to support its net zero ambitions as a potential example and model of this.
2. That opportunities for the application of heat transfer technologies to energy management be investigated, for example use of heat generated from data centres.
3. That barriers and opportunities to community led projects and a demand side perspective be considered as part of activity in the energy space. For example, the Panel was concerned that the costs and complexity of the planning system could be acting as a barrier to community led solar energy applications.
4. Clarify how a land use framework or strategic land use principles could be developed and considered to support local area energy planning, and more generally, where it could sit as part of delivering the Oxfordshire Strategic Vision for Long Term Sustainable Development. In the Panel’s view this was a matter of urgency.