The domestic renewable energy industry has reacted angrily to the government’s proposals to water down green commitments for new-build properties.
The government is proposing to scrap the 2008 Planning and Energy Act which gave local authorities the freedom to set their own carbon, renewables and energy efficiency targets for new-build properties.
The latest Housing Standards review issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) notes that “it is no longer appropriate for local plan policies to specify additional standards for how much of the energy use from homes should come from on-site renewables”.
The document continues: “The government considers that with this proposed new approach, it will need to consider the role of the Planning and Energy Act 2008…the government considers that the Act may need to be amended or removed.”
The renewables industry had already expressed frustration at the recently updated Building Regulations which weakened carbon reduction targets and, even in DCLG’s eyes, failed to sufficiently incentivise on-site renewables. The proposal to remove the Planning and Energy Act will therefore remove local authorities' only tool to incentivise the take up of on-site renewables.
REA chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska explained: “How can a government claiming to support both localism and renewable energy suggest doing away with the only policy tool that enables local authorities to promote the use of renewables in new housing?
“It is cheaper to install renewables during construction rather than retrofit, and doing so means the occupants can benefit from lower energy bills from day one. The government should be seeking to future proof new housing against rising energy prices and make it fit for the 21st century.”
Stuart Elmes, chair of the Solar Thermal Working Group of the Solar Trade Association, added: “The Building Regulations are not a ‘gold standard’ for energy efficiency, but rather a minimum requirement. Solar is a popular technology with developers aiming to meet Merton-type rules that exceed the Building Regulations. In Scotland, an annex to the Building Regulations gives local authorities freedom to choose how to build in their local area, but from within a defined menu of options that encourage the use of renewable energy.
“The recent update to Building Regulations was long delayed and introduced lower than expected carbon targets, meaning that the schedule for implementing full Zero Carbon standards, already heavily watered down, in 2016 looks likely to slip even further. Local authorities must be given the options to run their own affairs and this should include choosing to build to higher standards of sustainability than the bare minimum.”
The government has framed the proposed Housing Standards review as a way to cut “dozens of unnecessary and confusing measures imposed on house builders by councils and government.” In particular, DCLG notes that housebuilders currently face “demands for solar and wind energy sources that can’t physically fit onto the roofs of apartment buildings”.
The consultation over the revised Housing Standards will run until 22 October. The proposed changes can be viewed here.
Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, concluded: “At a time when the government could benefit from actions which restore confidence and trust in its relationship with local authorities and industry, the suggestion to scrap the Act quite simply beggars belief and must be dropped.”