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UK clean energy agencies urging MPs to back 'zero-carbon homes

Reducing carbon emissions from newly built homes is much easier, and cheaper, than retrofitting at a later date, proponents claim.

The Solar Trade Association, WWF and the Renewable Energy Association, with support from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, recently released a joint statement urging MPs to back amendments to the Infrastructure Bill to restore the Government's Zero Carbon Homes standards to levels recommended by their own advisers.

In the statement, the associations expressed disappointment in the UK Government's decision to reject the carbon standards recommended for new homes by its own advisers; the Zero Carbon Hub. Under current proposals new homes from 2016 will definitely not be zero carbon. At best, the parties said, they will emit only one third less carbon than a home built to 2006 standards.

The UK had been on track to deliver genuinely zero carbon homes for new build in 2016, but the standards have been watered down so that current proposals will save just a third of the carbon of homes built to 2006 standards. The Infrastructure Bill creates powers for developers to pay into a pot instead of delivering carbon-cutting measures onsite. The result is that purchasers of new homes will effectively be paying a carbon tax without enjoying the lower energy bills onsite measures can deliver for new homes.

Several amendments have been tabled by different parties during the course of the Infrastructure Bill seeking to reinstate the Zero Carbon Hub's recommended carbon performance for new homes, including by the former Department for Communities and Local Government Minister, Andrew Stunell MP.

"With global temperatures at a record high, this is not the time to step back from decarbonising our built environment," said Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association. "Solar technology is now affordable and particularly cost-effective to install at the new build stage where it can be made visually very attractive. We're urging the Lib Dems to get behind the Labour drive to reinstate meaningful Zero Carbon Homes in the Infrastructure Bill. There is still a window of opportunity before the next election for the Lib Dems to deliver a really meaningful win."

Emma Pinchbeck, head of climate and energy policy at WWF, agreed adding:  "At a time when people are struggling to pay their energy bills, and the UK is showing climate leadership on the global stage, we should be legislating for better housing, not worse.”

Reducing emissions from our homes is critical in tackling climate change, and doing so from newly built homes is much easier, and cheaper, than retrofitting at a later date, Pinchbeck noted. "It just doesn’t make sense to make keeping our homes warm and reducing our carbon emissions harder than it needs to be.”

Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, warned that “Zero Carbon Homes is in danger of becoming meaningless, with what she called the "watering down" of the standards. "The Lib Dems are pledging to build homes to the Zero Carbon Standard in their pre-manifesto, and this is a chance to live up to that before the election.”

Paradoxically, the watering down of the Zero Carbon Homes agenda has come as the cost of solar PV -- the most popular onsite technology -- has plummeted, observers say. The Solar Trade Association has calculated that if solar is used to meet standards beyond minimum insulation levels, there is only a few hundred pounds difference in building costs per home between the Hub's recommended standard and the Government's weaker proposals. The difference in cost would be quickly recovered in a few years by the home owner through lower energy bills.


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