Last week’s Queen’s Speech, detailing the Coalition’s plans for its last year in government, outlined a number of positives and negatives for green business.
The speech, given at the State Opening of Parliament for 2014/15 on Wednesday 4 June, announced that the UK will “champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change” by pushing for an “ambitious” decision on EU energy and climate change targets for 2030, which has currently been delayed until the Autumn.
The speech also outlined the importance of green business to the UK economy by noting that the sector could halve the UK’s trade deficit by 2014/15.
Zero carbon homes
However, new plans for a zero carbon homes standard, due to be introduced in 2016, were not received well by the green construction and renewables industries.
The speech announced that it will not be compulsory for developers of large construction projects to meet the highest levels of energy efficiency as part of the zero carbon homes standard, and instead will only have to meet level four of the Code for Sustainable Homes (two levels lower than the highest possible).
Under the new plans, if carbon emissions exceed level four of the code, developers will be allowed to use green ‘offsetting’ schemes to pay for the emissions to be reduced elsewhere, rather than having to ensure maximum carbon reductions on site.
Furthermore, smaller housing developments will be exempt from the standard.
‘Nail in the coffin’
Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive at the Renewable Energy Association (REA), said: “The Government is so desperate to get lots of houses built quickly that they seem blind to the opportunities to give these new homes super low energy bills.
“Our energy bills, our climate and the domestic renewable energy supply chain will all lose out as a result.”
Dave Sowden, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA), added: “[The new policy] only applies to 30 per cent of the market... this marks another nail in the coffin of investor confidence for the energy-related parts of the construction industry’s supply chain.”
However, Paul King, UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) chief executive, was more optimistic about the new policy, provided that offsetting schemes are connected to construction and drive local investment.
“The policy of allowing developers to pay into a fund to offset emissions they cannot reduce is a sound idea in principle... If implemented properly, this could lead to investment in local, community energy schemes and drive innovation in clean technology”, he said.
The speech also confirmed that plastic carrier bags from supermarkets and large retailers will be subject to a 5p charge from October 2015, bringing England in line with the rest of the UK. The change was first announced by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in October last year.
Environmental groups reacted most negatively to the announcement of new trespassing laws that will allow shale gas drilling to take place underneath people’s homes without their permission.
While environmental groups complained about violations of homeowner rights and noted the lack of public support for fracking, other welcomed the move.
John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Energy security is paramount for British business. Britain needs to exploit all of its potential energy generation resources – including shale gas – in order to deliver the security of supply that our economy requires.”
However, John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, argued that fracking will only have a “marginal impact on providing energy security.”
Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, added: “Allowing fracking firms to drill under people’s homes without permission and scrapping plans to make new houses more energy efficient [shows] a complete disregard for tackling climate change.”
Posted under General Interest on 10 June 2014