March 14, 2017 | Community News
The work done by a North East employer to adapt its business model in light of the imperatives created by climate change has been under the spotlight at Durham University.
Chris Kelsey from mining, property and renewable energy firm the Banks Group has been speaking to 70 geography, natural sciences and social science undergraduates about the ways in which the family-owned firm has evolved to establish itself in the renewable energy market while still helping to meet the UK’s continuing need for coal, and how it has adapted its wider working practices to minimise their environmental impact.
The Durham-headquartered business was originally set up in Tow Law in 1976 by founder and chairman Harry Banks OBE, and it has since successfully operated and fully restored 110 surface mines across northern England and Scotland, with more than 200 people still employed by its mining business.
In the early 2000s, the Banks Group set up a new renewable energy business, with a view to investing revenues that have been earned through its mining and property arms into establishing the firm as a leader owner/operator in the UK onshore wind industry.
Since then, it has built eight wind farms across northern England and Scotland with a total green energy generation capacity of 100MW, and it has just secured a new £210m investment package to fund the construction of its next three onshore schemes, including the six turbine Moor House wind farm near Darlington.
The event included presentations on how a number of North East public and private sector organisations, including Greggs, Arup and Durham County Council, are responding to the climate change agenda.
The Banks Group’s contribution also covered the initiatives they’re undertaking to reduce the carbon footprint of the company’s fleet of cars, commercial vehicles and plant equipment, and to ensure that its property projects have been designed with sustainable urban drainage schemes (SUDS) to manage the flow of water drainage from developed sites.
Professor Harriet Bulkeley of Durham University’s Department of Geography, says: “This module is designed to bring the global idea of climate change very much closer to home, and to look at how the issues related to it are being addressed right here on our doorstep.
“As well as providing information that is useful to them today, the presentations also gave our students some early ideas about the sorts of careers in which they might be able to use what they’re learning with us after they graduate.
“We’re grateful to the Banks Group and all the other participating organisations for sharing insights with us on how they’re shaping their operations in response to the challenges presented by climate change, and for enabling us to put together a stimulating and thought-provoking event for our students.”
The Banks Group currently employs around 400 people, and is ranked in the top 75 North East-based businesses in terms of its annual turnover.
Chris Kelsey at the Banks Group, adds: “Coal remains an essential bridge in the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy over the medium term, is still a key part of our operations and has enabled us to invest in creating a successful renewable energy division that has added considerably to the company’s overall success.
“Early recognition of the impact of the factors surrounding climate change has enabled us to shape our operations in a range of environmentally responsible ways, including obtaining planning permissions for over 330MW of renewable energy, signing up to the Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme and using technology and efficient working practices wherever possible to reduce our carbon footprint.
“Onshore wind is recognised as being the most effective technology in delivering carbon reduction targets for the UK at the lowest cost for the consumer, and we firmly believe therefore that it has a central role to play in the UK’s future energy mix, as well as in generating more of the energy that we all use via renewable means.
“We’re pleased to have been able to share our practical experience of factoring all these issues into our business operations with the Durham undergraduates, and hope the insight we provided will be useful to them as they continue their studies.”