Government heeds call to retain local authority renewable energy powers for new homes

DCLG preserves renewables policies in Housing Standards Review

The Government has preserved the policy driving the incorporation of renewable energy technologies in new homes, the Planning & Energy Act (aka Merton Rule), in the outcome of its Housing Standards Review [1].

REA Head of On-site Renewables Mike Landy said:

"We very much welcome that Government has listened to our concerns and retained the Merton Rule for renewable energy. This popular policy will continue to enable local authorities to ensure that new homes in their locality enjoy lower energy bills and carbon footprints thanks to on-site renewables and renewable heat networks. This is great news for green jobs and skills in the sector. We'd like to thank everyone who has helped to make this possible."

The Government's proposed amendment to the Deregulation Bill yesterday [2] removes the power from local governments to set energy efficiency standards for new buildings, but has left in place powers to specify the sourcing of energy from on-site renewable technologies (such as solar panels) or connected renewable heat networks (using technologies such as biomass, geothermal or energy from waste). This means local authorities can continue to specify the inclusion of renewable energy in new homes, helping reduce energy bills and carbon footprints for their occupants.

Although last year's update to Building Regulations did slightly increase energy efficiency standards (effective from 1st April this year), it did not provide any impetus for renewables. This outcome is therefore a great relief for the new build renewables sector, preserving jobs and skills developed to date ahead of the implementation of full ‘Zero Carbon' standards, including renewables, in the 2016 Building Regulations update.

Solar is the technology of choice for most developers building to Merton Rule requirements, as it is a simple technology to work with whose costs have fallen dramatically in recent years. The STA estimates that a 10% renewables Merton Rule can be achieved for just £1,000 per home [3], and that the costs of building to full ‘Zero Carbon' standards can be recouped by the homeowner in less than ten years [4].

STA Chief Executive Paul Barwell said:

"It's good news that DCLG have now understood the value of solar in making this decision. Costs of solar have fallen further than anticipated in earlier projections and the positive impact of ensuring solar is part of the construction of new buildings significantly outweighs any regulatory burden. This is good news for our members, who can continue to grow their businesses and develop their workers' skills as we move towards truly Zero Carbon construction techniques.

"There are already half a million solar roofs in the UK and polls show solar is the public's favourite energy technology – which is not surprising given it enables homeowners to save money while doing their bit for the planet. Across retrofits and new build, solar PV and solar hot water, we hope industry can deliver its one millionth solar roof in 2015."

The REA and STA are both members of the Efficient Affordable Energy in Buildings (EAEB) campaign, which coordinated an open letter (signed by 50 leaders from green businesses and NGOs) to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles earlier this week [5], urging him not to scrap the Merton Rule. As members of the EAEB campaign, both the REA and STA look forward to seeing the details of the 2016 Building Regulations update in due course, which must ensure that both energy efficiency and renewables can fulfil their potential to keep bills and emissions down in new homes across the country.

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