Renewables sector condemns planning regs climb down

The domestic renewable energy industry has condemned the government’s suggestion to do away with the 2008 Planning and Energy Act. The Act, promoted by Michael Fallon, who is now energy minister, provides local authorities with the ability to set specific carbon, renewable energy and energy efficiency targets for new build properties (the so-called ‘Merton Rule’). The suggestion is part of the government’s consultation on the Housing Standards Review, published yesterday.

The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) has welcomed Kevin Lowe as the new technical manager to drive positive change in the successful implementation of heat pump technology.

The recent update to national Building Regulations did not impose strict enough carbon reduction targets to incentivise the integration of on-site renewables (such as solar energy systems, heat pumps and biomass boilers) into new properties. DCLG admitted this in its Impact Assessment. The Planning and Energy Act’s ‘Merton Rule’ is therefore the only policy tool explicitly incentivising on-site renewables in new homes, and must remain available to local authorities at least until Building Regulations are sufficiently strong to drive uptake of on-site renewables in new homes (which will not be before 2016 at the earliest).

Emma Piercy, head of policy at the Micropower Council, said: “Government’s decision to ‘water down’ the 2013 Building Regulations, and its new proposal on potentially repealing the 2008 Planning & Energy Act, seriously undermines and damages industry confidence in the microgeneration sector.

“Industry has spent the last few years preparing for Zero Carbon Home regulations and these developments send a signal to investors that the government is no longer committed to the 2016 target.  The consultation announced yesterday potentially removes the only real driver for renewables in new build homes at present, which will result in less investment and put at risk jobs in the industry.”

REA chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska said: 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, said: “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.”