Sustainable house, sustainable communities


There is an important and fascinating debate taking place about the Coalition’s Energy Bill and particularly the Green Deal. As many will know, the basic proposition is that house-holders get a loan which enables them to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and which is then paid back through a 25 year tax on their fuel bills. Key is the idea of ‘the golden rule’ which specifies that householders’ total fuel bills fall as a consequence (in other words the money saved though energy efficiency must be greater than the repayment levy on bills).

As the Bill goes through committee stage there are several vital debates. One concerns guarantees that the Green Deal will actually deliver the scale of carbon reductions necessary to meet the overall emission reduction target for the nation. Another focuses on worries that householders’ – particularly poorer householders’ – savings will be over-estimated and that the golden rule will be broken. This would amount to an energy efficiency version of mis-selling in which energy companies persuade people to sign up to a deal which in the end leaves them out of pocket.

It is surely important that both these concerns are adequately addressed in the final legislation. But the issue which most interests me involves attempts to ensure that the Green Deal market is not entirely stitched up by big players such as energy companies or supermarket chains. On the one hand, this is about making sure there is potential here for the SME sector. The Government has said it wants to ensure SMEs get a slice of the market but at the same time seem to be resisting and legislative guarantee to that effect.

On the other hand, there is surely scope here for a link between energy efficiency and community capacity? Community engagement is critical to the success of a scheme like the green deal. This is for three reasons:

Householders taking out loans need to trust providers (current levels of trust in major energy companies are not high)

Research shows that there is a contagion effect in energy efficiency. For example, people are much more likely to be responsive to the offer of solar panels if someone else in their street has already installed them

The economies of alternative energy schemes (for example micro-generation) rely on a high level of take up in a particular locality

For all these reasons it makes sense to encourage community based non-profit groups to be the driving force for the Green Deal. And there is another equally important possibility. If such schemes make it possible to achieve higher levels of emissions reduction, could there be scope for these scheme to meet the golden rule AND generate an income stream for community organisations?

This seems like a great opportunity and maybe even something with which RSA Fellows could engage. But perhaps I don’t fully understand the issues or the constraints of the Coalition plan. So – as always - I would be very grateful for informed feedback.

Finally, despite Tessy Britton’s best efforts she is still three names short of the five needed (50% of my readership) to stop me making up and telling rubbish jokes which are in some way related to my subject matter. As a small concession I have at least decided today to publish the joke at the end so readers have the option of stopping now and avoiding having to groan loudly in about 5 seconds….

What’s the difference between Napoleon and Josephine making love before Waterloo and a recycling centre?

One’s a bottle bank while the other’s a battle bonk

If, after that, it’s still possible, have a good weekend ...

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