"Carbon footprint is a big challenge for us," says Ian McAulay who as managing director of capital programmes for United Utilities is going to be running a proposed £4bn capital budget in AMP5, up £800M on the current period. Bills though are set to rise by just 7p a day to £1.07 and reduced energy use and carbon production are going to play a big part in keeping those rises pegged.
"Our issue is that when we are creating our assets, we are, by default, increasing our carbon footprint. We’ve plotted out our mitigation plan and it only goes a small way. So how do we accelerate the mitigation and bring technology to play?"
It’s well worth the effort he says. "First, my personal take is that emissions are not a good thing and we can do something about them. "Two, it makes business sense by reducing the amount we pay for energy and allowing us to develop new business streams like using gas we produce to power combined heat and power plants . When carbon trading begins, we believe carbon is going to be expensive so the less we produce the better. At the same time we stimulate the market and force innovation which is good for us and good for our suppliers.
"And finally our customers and consumers are demanding it.
"Carbon reduction is built into the business plan. We want to use technologies that are greener and more efficient and at the moment we’re wrestling with R&D to see how we optimise our existing £50bn asset base. The opportunities there are big!
"I’m very enthusiastic about real time control for instance. If we measure in real time the quality and quantity of influent, we can reduce the chemicals and energy used to treat it. The next step is to look at the capacity of the aquatic environment in real time. We tend to deal with average flow but we could vary the level of treatment to suit the amount of effluent.
"The Water Framework Directive could be a very positive influence particularly if it moves us from worrying about point source discharge to a holistic catchment approach.
"And we do have a lot to do in understanding the aquatic/atmospheric balance better (in terms of what is best for the overall environment). There are brave decisions to be made.
"The biggest challenge is looking at the economic climate and water bills and making sure what we do is value for money. At the moment there is a surprising inclination on the part of customers to pay for environmental benefit. But as things move forward and become a reality we will have to check again that what is proposed is appropriate."