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London Underground: TfL 'pauses' massive contract for Tube network to be powered by solar panels and wind farms

MyLondon 09/12/2022 Josiah Mortimer

TfL has had to 'pause' a mega-contract to power the Tube through solar and wind power following issues with the market and a lack of interest from energy producers. Sadiq Khan pledged that at least 10 per cent of Transport for London ’s energy will come from renewable sources in June, in an announcement met with much fanfare. Transport for London is the biggest energy user in the capital - but currently gets its energy from the National Grid with no guarantees that it is being directly powered by renewables.

Now the mayor has had to pull the first steps towards powering the Tube renewably-sourced electricity, after there were no suitable bidders, MyLondon can reveal. The 15 year contract would have provided up to 200gwh - equivalent to a recent tender for six solar parks in Germany plus a wind farm, or enough energy to power roughly 35,000 households.

The mayor has few powers over energy but holds sway over building standards through his London Plan, which informs all new developments in the capital, and TfL's energy usage. Transport for London's Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) tender hoped to kick-start its ambition of using 100 per cent renewable electricity across its network by 2030. TfL sources say the transport body is still committed to the pledge.

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At the moment's the Tube's energy comes from energy firms via the National Grid, with no guarantees it's coming directly from renewable sources © TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images At the moment's the Tube's energy comes from energy firms via the National Grid, with no guarantees it's coming directly from renewable sources

Mr Khan hopes to electrify all London buses and power the Tube entirely with green energy, with the pulled tender aiming to purchase approximately 10 per cent of TfL's required electricity from renewable energy sources and new build assets like extra wind farms and solar panel sites.

TfL's tender was withdrawn then reissued in October, then withdrawn again until the "end of the year" amid market volatility. There are no signs yet when it will be put out again.

Green London Assembly member Zack Polanski said: “After a year of wildfires and droughts, there is no question that the climate emergency needs our attention now. Transport for London should have been running off renewables a long time ago and every moment that we delay puts the goal of net zero by 2030 even further out of reach.

"The City of London reached an impressive deal to power half of their buildings with solar power from Dorset two years ago. That should have been the first of many more deals, but it is clear that the Government does not understand the urgent need to support local government and TfL to invest in British renewables.”

And Nick Rogers AM, GLA Conservatives transport spokesperson, told MyLondon: "For TfL to progress to net zero, Sadiq Khan needs to come up with a practical plan based in reality and not on what makes a catchy headline...It is simply unacceptable to demand action from TfL...without giving them the resources and a realistic plan to achieve it."

Mayor at West Ham © Steffan Rousseau / PA Wire Mayor at West Ham

A TfL spokesperson said: “It is critical that all parts of the Greater London Authority family play their part to ensure all of London is net zero by 2030. TfL has plans to procure all of its electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of the decade. As part of this we recently launched a procurement exercise to ensure approximately 10 per cent of TfL’s required electricity comes from new build renewable energy assets.

They added: "Due to a number of factors, including market uncertainty, we have decided to reschedule the tender process later this financial year. This will enable us to adapt to ensure we maximise the opportunity and interest from the market, while keeping our plans on track.”

TfL believes the energy freeze of only six months causes uncertainty for consumers and energy generators - one factor that has led TfL to "review" its plans to relaunch its PPA tender. The transport body now expects to relaunch it later "this financial year," i.e. by April 2023.

Asked by MyLondon at the time why TfL was only starting with 10 per cent renewables as this appears low compared to the UK average, the mayor said: "I didn't know you were a transport expert." He added that 10 per cent was a "minimum", and could be "scaled up quite quickly." Mr Khan said: "I don't want a big bang approach that fails; 2030 is the worst case scenario."

Pressed on whether it would cost taxpayers more, he added: "No. The concern was that it would cost extra, but that's the other reason to start at 10 per cent. We can scale it up pretty fast." However, the TfL contract is clear that "price is not the only award criterion" for the winning bidder, suggesting the winner may not necessarily have the cheapest offer.

Mayor Khan had hinted that it could be rolled out across City Hall as a whole, with renewables powering London Fire Brigade and Met Police operations, as well as councils and the NHS. Mr Khan said: "We spend £11bn a year warming our homes and fuelling cars. But this island is blessed with wind and solar."

TfL uses the equivalent to 420,000 households worth of energy every year - or 12 per cent of London's homes. The TfL contract stated that the London Underground is "seeking to enter into an [agreement] with a renewable generator, and expects to contract for 150-200 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable energy per [year] from 'additional' generator assets, [for] 15 years.

It added: "The new build facility must be able to begin delivering power to TfL under a PPA no earlier than 1 June 2024 and no later than 30 June 2026." To put that into context, in 2015 London used 28,000 GWh of energy, while in 2020, the UK as a whole generated 75,610 GWh of electricity from offshore and onshore wind.

The Mayor of London and Chair of C40 Cities, Sadiq Khan, said at the time: "As many national governments around world dither, cities have a responsibility to act and to show what's possible. We are the doers, not the delayers....This first step to powering the Tube network and TfL's wider operations with 100 per cent renewable source electricity is another crucial part of reducing carbon emissions and building a better, greener London for everyone."

A previous version of this piece said the tender was 'scrapped'. TfL insists the tender has only been paused and will be re-issued when possible.

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