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Wood fuel to warm Suffolk schools

Updated Saturday, 1st May 2010

Suffolk County Council’s 2010 Ashden Award recognised its outstanding work in supporting the local wood-fuel supply chain and installing wood-fired boilers in schools

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Andrew Rowe

Well my name’s Andrew Rowe, I work for Suffolk County Council which is a local authority on the east of England, and my title is Design Sustainability and Access Manager.  So I have responsibility for looking after all of the County Council’s capital building programme, including all of the sort of sustainable and access initiatives that we have.

Interviewer

And what brings you here to the Ashton Awards?

Andrew Rowe

Well we’re winners for the Ashton Awards, and our project was around wood fuel biomass projects in Suffolk, and we've converted and installed 20 wood-fuelled boilers and created a supply chain which has meant that we can supply woodchips and wood pellets to our boilers.

Interviewer

Can you show us these here?

Andrew Rowe

Yeah, I mean these are now, I mean when we started off we very much used a different supply chain, and what part of our project was about was growing a supply chain in Suffolk.  So we've now got wood that’s grown in Suffolk on our own farmland and woodland, that’s chipped, stored for a year and then delivered back to our schools and other projects in this format.  And we developed quite an innovative blown system to blow chip and pellet from the delivery lorry into the boiler silo, that meant it could be delivered at any time and it was safe, you know, it wasn’t around tipping in a confined sort of school environment.  And wood pellets, initially we started by importing pellets from Canada, from Ireland and from other parts of Europe, but we've now set up a pelleting supply chain in Suffolk that means that wood isn’t going into our waste stream, it is actually being recycled and actually being used in our buildings to create heat and heat up water.

Interviewer

That’s fantastic.  So what first sparked your interest in environmental issues?

Andrew Rowe

Well, I mean I'm an engineer by background, so I think I had a sort of training in the built environment and I think engineers, architects, designers, people that are designing buildings have got an ideal opportunity to be able to get involved with sustainable things, and I think they’ve really got a responsibility to get involved in sustainable solutions for the built environment.  So I kind of think it was sort of a natural thing really to get involved, and it’s ended up being sort of a personal passion and something that was a personal passion to a number of people in Suffolk has ended up being engrained in policy at all levels of our authority, we've got pretty good buy-in from the politicians from most offices within the Council.

Interviewer

Can you say a little bit more about what you think that sense of responsibility entails for people who work in the built environment?

Andrew Rowe

Yeah, I mean I think people who work in the built environment have got a sense of responsibility to try and make things as sustainable as possible, to try and reduce the amount of energy they use, try and reduce the amount of carbon that goes into building buildings, but probably more importantly goes into running buildings.  And as a local authority, we’re trying to be sort of cutting edge, we’re trying to show community leadership, to try and show that actually, yeah, you can be sustainable, you know, you can power, heat your buildings using sustainable sources, and I think if we can do it then that should show a leadership for people in the community, other organisations, other public sector private organisations to do the same.

Interviewer

And do you have a lot of collaborations and initiatives with the private sector at this point?

Andrew Rowe

We do, I mean our supply chain is all private sector, delivered in partnership with them.  We've got a lot of contacts that we’re trying to grow with other private sector land owners, owners of buildings in Suffolk, and trying to really pass on the knowledge that we've made and that we've got to them.  It’s not about sort of keeping this knowledge in one place, it’s about distributing it and making sure that they learn from perhaps what we've been able to do.

Interviewer

Well, I'm going to ask you the same question and I'm going to ask you the same question twice.  So first I'd like you to answer maybe more generally, when you look forward to the next ten years, what do you see emerging as the major issues of the carbon agenda?

Andrew Rowe

I mean I think it’s from a designer, from a built environment person, I think the biggest issue is going to be our legacy buildings.  There’s a lot of work that goes on to improving standards for new buildings, whether that’s building regulations or BREEAM or lots of other things, but ultimately if all we do is improve our new buildings then in 60 years’ time we’re still going to have buildings that were built of poor standard, poor energy standards, poor carbon standards.  So I think the biggest challenge for the built environment is actually How do we improve our existing building stock?  And if we don’t find a way to do that sensibly, economically, viably, then we’re only ever going to make a very, very small indent over ten years to the carbon and the, you know, the carbon agenda.

Interviewer

Okay, that’s great.  Let me ask the same question in a narrower context this time.  When you look forward to the next ten years, what do you see emerging as the main challenges for Suffolk in particular?

Andrew Rowe

Okay, I mean I think the big issue there for Suffolk is that particularly Suffolk County Council, you know, public spending and how these initiatives can really be pushed forward in terms of very much a sort of public sector squeeze on finances.  And I think renewable heat initiatives and those kinds of things that we know about and we hope will come into force in April 2011 really need some definition by government as to say, you know, are they going to come in, if we are to build business cases based on RHI then we need to know that now and we need to work towards that position.  Whilst there’s still uncertainty about how government policy is going to pan out, that does leave us in some uncertain situation, and I think there’s going to be much more collaboration, so a lot more public sector bodies are going to be getting together, using buildings in a much more innovative, much more economic way.

Interviewer

Do you see those bodies getting together across county wise as well?

Andrew Rowe

I mean we’re doing in Suffolk a lot of work with the public sector, trying to link up other local authorities, districts, boroughs, but also police authorities, primary care trusts.  We've got a joint office building with a District Council, we’re just about to build two joint offices with the Police, so within Suffolk that’s happening but I think at a wider level the public sector UK have got to get together and not have, share much more in terms of their accommodation and their built environment.

Interviewer

Well that leads very nicely onto the last question which I'd like to ask you, which is a bit of a surprise question, here we go.  When you look forward to the next ten years, do you see yourself as an optimist or a pessimist?

Andrew Rowe

I think an optimist really.  I mean in terms of sustainability I think we've got some fantastic skills.  We've got some fantastic opportunities to be really innovative.  And at a time when budgets are going to be tight, particularly in the public sector, I think that’s probably the best opportunity for innovations to come out.  I mean I think people under pressure work a lot better and can come up with some really unique ideas, so I think optimistically we should be looking forward to the opportunities rather than saying this is a real challenge.

(8’25”)

 

 

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