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Cambridge City Council

Plans for waste depot solar farm progress

11 October 2022

Plans for a solar farm which will power electric bin lorries used by the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Service have taken a step forward, following confirmation two councils have funding in-place.

During last Thursday’s Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee Meeting, Cambridge City Council’s participation in the Waterbeach Renewable Energy Network (WREN) Solar Project to develop an integrated and renewable energy storage solution was approved. This comes after South Cambridgeshire District Council had already allocated funding for the project. Greater Cambridge Shared Waste is a partnership between the councils and collects recycling and waste from around 127,000 households across the two areas.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has also outlined proposals to help fund the project. The proposals for the solar farm were included in the Combined Authority’s budget plans in early 2022. This follows an invitation from the Combined Authority to its constituent councils, where funding has been made available to support ideas for projects that reflect the aspirations and business plan objectives of the Authority. The final Business Case and funding arrangements are due to be presented to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority for its decision at its November Board meeting on Monday 14 November.

In order to reach the net-zero aspirations of the councils, Greater Cambridge Shared Waste must invest in electric or alternative fuel bin collection trucks. Greater Cambridge Shared Waste currently operates Cambridgeshire’s first electric bin lorry; a Dennis Eagle eCollect which entered service in November 2020. A second electric bin lorry, a Faun Zoeller E-Rotopress, which has a revolving body to help compact waste, has been collecting waste from streets across the city and district since June 2022. The service also runs several smaller electric vans and has solar panels installed on the Depot buildings. However, there isn’t enough charging capacity in the Depot’s local electricity network to meet the requirements of the councils’ programme to replace its diesel bin lorries with electric lorries. As a result, there is an urgent need for on-site renewable energy supply to enable electric bin lorries to be charged using clean energy.

The programme proposed by Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Councils therefore includes a solar panel power plant on land adjacent to the Depot, along with a battery storage system, charging islands, cabling and other associated works to form a smart micro-grid.

There are approximately 50 bin lorries in the fleet. The WREN Solar Project will allow for up to about 30 diesel trucks to be replaced with electric vehicles, reducing the councils’ carbon emissions. The remaining vehicles that are not replaced with electric alternatives will transition to alternative fuel sources such as biofuels, where possible, as their operational requirements (eg travel distances) cannot currently be fulfilled using the electric bin lorries available at the moment

Currently the complete bin lorry fleet consumes around 695,000 liters of diesel fuel a year resulting in 1,800 tonnes of CO2 a year. The long-term goal is to replace the entire fleet with electrical or alternate fuel vehicles. 

The WREN Solar Project will be jointly funded by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council who will jointly be contributing £2.3m, and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority contributing a total of £5.3m, if funding is secured.

Cllr Rosy Moore, Executive Councillor for Environment, Climate Change and Biodiversity, said: “Earlier this year, we announced the second electrical refuse collection vehicle for the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Service fleet.

“One by one, the addition of these vehicles have been steps in the right direction but there is still a long way to go and more must be done.

“The Waterbeach Renewable Energy Network Solar Project is a bigger but necessary step that we are happy to commit to taking. It will dramatically change the way our fleet is operated, cutting down huge amounts of carbon emissions by increasing the capacity of the Depot’s local electricity network so that we can have more electrical vehicles in our fleet reducing the need for diesel operated vehicles.”

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Brian Milnes, said: “This is a really exciting step forwards in our plans to produce our own clean, renewable energy which will help power our state of the art electric bin lorries. These plans aim to create a loop whereby our electric bin lorries are powered by green energy, and I’m delighted that, step by step, we are making progress. It’s further proof of how we are determined to make recycling and waste collections as green as possible for residents.”

The Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Dr Nik Johnson, added: “Our Climate Action Plan encourages a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from waste management, and a focus on renewable energy. This project proposes action on those, and I look forward to seeing the final business case.”