Highland Council says it could save up to £600,000 annually on energy bills thanks to new interest-free finance to invest in efficiency measures such as solar panels, upgrading inefficient oil boiler systems and LED lighting.
The £3.5m interest-free loan is from government-funded Salix Finance and is the largest awarded in Scotland.
It match funds the council’s investments in energy efficiency to create a £7 million Energy Efficiency Fund.
The council is currently rolling out a programme of solar panel installation on suitable properties in its estate, with the intention of offsetting spiralling energy bills.
These include corporate buildings, schools and leisure centres.
Buildings need to have a southerly orientation and appropriate roof condition to be in line for the panels.
The panels work in daylight, rather than requiring full sun, with the council expecting bulk purchase discounts to add to the viability of the project.
Council plans for major ground-mounted solar arrays in Alness and Tain have been approved and are at the tendering stage.
The council says it is looking at its entire land portfolio for areas where solar arrays would be suitable and could be used to supply nearby businesses as a form of income generation.
Councillor Gordon Adam, chairman of the council’s Commercial Board, said: “Advice from Procurement Scotland has indicated that electricity prices are going to rise significantly by 2020/21.
“The council must reduce its consumption of energy to protect us from future increases to our energy bills therefore helping us protect our frontline services.
“This loan enables us to significantly increase the amount of energy efficiency work we can undertake.”
Lighting in more than 60 council sites will also be upgraded to LED this financial year while oil-fired boilers will be upgraded to gas.
“Upgrading to gas means that as hydrogen power comes in in future the conversion will be far easier,” Mr Adam said.
The council says the energy efficiencies will produce annual carbon savings of the equivalent of more than 1,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “The council recognises that it has a vital leadership role in terms of reducing the region’s climate change impact to support both national and global emissions reduction targets.
“This funding from Salix, alongside work which has already been programmed will allow us to go further and faster in terms of mitigating our impact.”
Savings made from these projects will be recycled back into the council’s Energy Efficiency Fund for investment in additional energy efficiency measures.
The council can continue to recycle this funding, without interest, for as long as it has projects that meet Salix criteria to reduce carbon emissions and energy spend.