More than 50 companies have signed an open letter to communities and local government secretary, Eric Pickles, to keep a key planning rule that requires on-site renewable energy generation in new UK buildings.

NGOs and small business to multinational companies, as well as Solar Power Portal, have signed the letter.

The letter is aimed at influencing the outcome of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)’s Housing Standards Review, which it put out for consultation last year. The consultation outlined plans to “amend or remove” the so-called Merton Rule.

Enshrined in the 2008 planning act, the Merton Rule is currently the only pro-renewables building regulation in the UK. Developed by the London Borough of Merton, the policy enables local authorities can demand higher energy standards than those set by national building regulations, including on site renewable energy generation.

It stipulates that new developments (homes, to public buildings such as libraries and leisure centres to supermarkets and commercial buildings) must generate at least 10% of its energy from on site renewables.

The Merton Rule is driving new-build renewables as part of the London Plan; in 2012 this ensured there were 87,000 metres squared of solar PV were installed in new buildings in 2012 alone.

To meet the 10% rule, the Solar Trade Association (STA), which has signed the letter, estimates a cost of around £1,000 per new home, saving upwards of £90 a year in energy bills.
If the Merton Rule is scrapped, there will be no renewables related building regulations until the Zero Carbon Act in 2016, leaving a gap, the STA said.

“Scrapping the Merton Rule would remove a vital bridge to the Zero Carbon standards promised for 2016, which will anyway not be fully effective until the end of this decade,” said Dave Sowden, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association.

“The resulting cliff edge would leave the new build renewables sector with near-empty order books for five or six years, meaning vital skills and jobs would be lost,” said Renewable Energy Association head of on-site renewables Mike Landy.

Until the Zero Carbon Act comes into force, the Merton rule is required to sustain renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs and low carbon construction.

Building regulations can have a significant effect on carbon emissions and energy bills. The built environment is responsible for a third of the UK’s 2% of global carbon emissions.

Naomi Luhde-Thompson, planning adviser to environmental body Friends of the Earth: “Major flooding has put climate change back on the public’s and Westminster’s agenda. Our built environment is responsible for around a third of UK emissions. Given how affordable solar technology is now in new build, it would be crazy for the greenest government ever to prevent local authorities from making sensible use of clean, money-saving technologies in new build homes.”

The STA also found in September 2013, if the solar market increases tenfold, the price of PV would decrease by up to 30%.

“We now have affordable technologies to build energy bill anxiety out of UK homes. Given the political furore over energy costs, the Government should be 100% behind local authorities demanding new homes with very low energy bills,” said Leonie Greene, STA head of external affairs.

The government’s “zeal” for deregulation is “trumping economic rationality” and will lead to higher energy bills, said Sowden.

“The figures speak for themselves: the benefits of building to a zero carbon standard more than outweigh the cost. Our analysis suggests fuel bills will be up to £100 higher than they would be had the Building Regulations not been watered down in 2013. This government, which has made the ‘value for money’ of policy a key priority, will be disadvantaging UK taxpayers if they repeal the Planning and Energy Act,” Sowden said.

The cost of a ‘zero carbon’ home has decreased by nearly 60% since 2011, according to Zero Carbon Hub, which provides information on the subject.

The government has assessed that by scrapping the Merton Rule £300 million saving for land owners and home developers looking to cut energy saving corners, the letter points out this assessment is “one-sided” and leaves out the lost income to renewable energy installers and the savings in energy bills to homeowners.

As house prices are “booming” the STA argues home developers do not need the extra income, whereas home owners need to save on energy bills and renewables installers require the Merton rule to keep the industry ticking until the Zero Carbon Act comes into effect.

The STA urges individuals to write to MPs to seek renewable energy requirements for new builds. Claiming homeowners will be “paying higher energy bills tomorrow so landowners and developers can profit today.”

The letter also argues the move threatens democracy as power is taken from local governments and communities to decide on building regulations.

“Local authorities often rightly want to reflect local concern to reduce the impact of our built environment on the climate. Forward-thinking authorities also know that modest additional cost at the construction stage is quickly recovered by the homeowner in the form of lower energy bills and results in more money to spend in the local economy,” said Greene.

The letter states the DCLG has offered no direction on renewables building regulation and is instead considering “solutions” such as off site renewables, instead of improving clean energy generation for individual homes.

Nick Molho, head of climate and energy policy at environmental campaign group WWF, who also signed the letter, said: “David Cameron is right when he says that climate change is one of the biggest threats facing us today. One of the key ways for us to tackle this threat, head on, is to make sure we have homes that are fit for the future. This includes making sure they emit a fraction of the emissions they do today. Maintaining strong standards for our new homes will deliver such low carbon homes that are warmer, healthier and cheaper to run for all.”

According to the STA, the current government-funded, energy efficient social housing, zero carbon definitions, and new build energy standards – have all plummeted, with carbon emissions improving by only 6%. Efficiency standards for new homes have reversed into steep decline, rather than improving.

Sowden added: “Why wait any longer to future-proof our homes?”