What will the election mean for the RHI?

With the country set to go to the polls early next month, the spectre of a new government will not halt the move to low carbon heating, says Robert Burke, HETAS

In just over a month we will get our chance to choose the next government in the general election scheduled for 07 May. Traditionally the run up to an election can be an uncertain time. Will a new government change policies? What will happen to existing schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive? However, this time things feel more certain for many reasons.

Now that the RHI and MCS schemes are established and proving successful, particularly for biomass, it seems unlikely that major changes will put that at risk. Both seem to be supported by politicians across the board, and 12 months after the launch of the domestic scheme it is helping both the domestic and the more established commercial sectors to reduce carbon emissions by turning to renewable technologies and sustainable biomass fuels.

It’s this point which is crucial, as the UK is failing to meet targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Over the last couple of years the drive to reduce UK carbon emissions has stalled, partly due to the use of cheap coal rather than gas in power generation. Furthermore the number of cavity wall insulations – one of the most effective ways to cut energy use – has declined drastically after changes to the Green Deal made the scheme less financially attractive for homeowners.

At the moment it’s predicted that the UK will cut carbon dioxide emissions by only about 21 percent to 23 percent from 2013 to 2025, compared with the government’s own targets of a reduction of 31 percent over the same period. Which is why schemes like the domestic and commercial RHI are vital for those sectors.

In a further complication, the UK will miss targets set for reducing air pollution and reducing NOx emissions. Whilst the main cause of higher NOx is transport, there is a small contribution from heating. The European commission recently launched legal proceedings against the UK for failing to reduce excessive levels of air pollution, which could result in fines of up to £300m per year. We are not alone – other European countries have also failed to meet the air quality directive which should have been adopted in 2008. But Britain has been singled out by the EU for persistent breaches of the directive to force the government to bring air quality up to scratch.

Although it’s very difficult to predict post election policy, any scheme such as RHI has a major part to play in meeting our targets for reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality. HETAS is heavily involved with both these issues, and lobbies at both UK and European government levels to promote and protect the solid fuel and biomass industry. Whatever the outcome on 07 May, this is something that HETAS will strive to continue.