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Cambridgeshire County Council divided on using ‘green gas’ over fossil fuels

Councillors at Cambridgeshire County Council were divided on whether to support the use of ‘green gas’ over fossil fuels from its mains gas supplier.

Cambridgeshire County Council Lucy Nethsingha Picture: Keith Heppell. (52838788)
Cambridgeshire County Council Lucy Nethsingha Picture: Keith Heppell. (52838788)

Some said they wanted to see more information about whether green gas is actually a more environmentally friendly option, or is just ‘green washing’, whereas others argued action should be taken rather than talking about it.

The debate came about when councillors were asked to approve the renewal of its mains gas supplier contract, at the strategy and resources committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday, November 2).

The county council is progressing plans to adapt its buildings from using gas to using renewable heating.

Council officers said they expect the county council’s gas usage will decline over the next few years as the transition progresses.

Officers had recommended that the committee agree to approve the renewal of the mains gas supply contract with ESPO for April 2023 to March 2027.

The officers report also recommended that discussions take place with EPSO on how the council can transition to greener fuels.

The report explained that a ‘green gas’ tariff is offered by the supplier, with ‘green gas’ referring to biomethane, which is produced from waste plant material and organic waste through a process called anaerobic digestion.

It added: “Unlike electricity – which can be produced from 100 per cent renewable sources such as solar – burning gas still releases carbon into the atmosphere, even if it is green gas.

“The advantage of green gas is that it is from biological sources rather than fossil fuels.

“These biological sources would have absorbed the equivalent amount of carbon during the plant’s growth phase, making emissions ‘carbon neutral’, but not zero carbon emissions, however when the gas is burnt it does still emit carbon emissions and this occurs at a far quicker rate than the original absorption.

“The other challenge with green gas is that the sustainability of this option depends on the source of the biological material, which is unknown.”

Councillor Lorna Dupré (Lib Dem, Sutton) said there is a “question mark” over the sustainability of ‘green gas’ and that she believed there are a number of issues with the fuel that had been raised in the officer’s report and supported further discussions with EPSO.

Counccillor Steve Count Picture: Keith Heppell
Counccillor Steve Count Picture: Keith Heppell

However, former leader councillor Steve Count (Con, March North and Waldersey) argued that the council should be “biting the arm off” the company for the green gas and put forward an amendment to remove the recommendation for discussion to take place, and instead asked councillors to support instructing EPSO to purchase green gas with “immediate effect”.

Councillor Josh Schumann (Con, Burwell) also challenged the administration on previous statements it had made, that it would choose the best option for the environment, and argued that by not supporting the amendment the council would not be choosing the best option for the environment.

The seconder of the amendment councillor Sam Hoy (Con, Wisbech East) said: “The world is burning and you want to spend more time talking about whether you want to be green or not rather than taking action which you can do right now.”

The chair of the committee council leader councillor Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham) recommended that the administration did not support the proposed amendment.

She said that while she felt the debate had at times been “slightly bad tempered”, she was “really grateful” that councillors were having a “serious debate” about the benefits and possible shortcomings of ‘green gas’.

Cllr Nethsingha added: “I think it’s really helpful that everybody in this council is wanting to be as green as they possibly can be.

“There seems to have been a remarkable amount of consensus around the room about the need for this council to move as quickly as possible to net zero and for us to do everything we possibly can to be a green council, so I am actually profoundly pleased that we’ve had such a serious debate on that.

“As the administration we take very seriously the advice of our officers, and I have to say I think our officers are excellent on this and have real expertise in the area of how we can best manage our council’s emissions.

“On this, as on many other things, we are listening very carefully to their advice about what the best way of using our resources to reduce our emissions are and we will continue to do that.”

She added that she “absolutely” understood the reasoning behind the amendment, but that she was “not confident” at the moment that green gas is the right option.

The amendment did not receive enough votes to support it, and the original officer’s recommendations to agree to renew the council’s gas contract with ESPO and discuss how the council can encourage a transition to greener fuels was approved.

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