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These are tight financial times for everyone, so new products, including new homes; need to reflect the economic and environmental circumstances we find ourselves in We are once again seeing punishing increases in energy prices with little sign of any political will to bring this to a halt. Therefore it’s important to take every opportunity to reduce the cost and environmental impact of the energy needed to keep people warm and healthy in their homes.

As we know the majority of homes that we will be living in during the next 50 years, are already built, and are the most expensive to keep warm we also know that most new homes will be built within these existing communities.  The challenge is to maximise the benefits that these new developments bring to the existing community, helping people living in existing homes to reduce their energy bills is one way to achieve this.   

Part of that challenge is, planning strategically and collaboratively to develop low and zero carbon energy sources, new developments, and regeneration schemes together and cost effectively.  I believe that enabling developers to meet their carbon compliance requirements  via ‘allowable solutions’, i.e. projects that deliver carbon reductions outside the development where they are unable to onsite, will help appropriate development continue, but will also provide benefit to local communities - but this does mean that local projects must have priority when determining how the funding from allowable solutions will be spent.

I’m encouraged by the recent Zero Carbon Homes report ‘Allowable Solutions for Zero Carbon Homes – towards a workable framework’, which sets out the strong role councils can play in achieving zero carbon homes, and confirms that local projects should be the first to benefit from the new revenue streams available via allowable solutions. Proposals for Energy Opportunity Mapping will help councils and their communities determine the most cost-effective and appropriate carbon reduction projects in their area, will provide flexibility and allow local choice for projects that are put forward and can receive funding, and will ensure value-for-money by making project proposals and decision-making totally transparent.  I hope we can encourage councils to make the money go even further by bringing together other funding sources into a local Community Energy Fund.

The work on zero carbon new homes needs to fit into the wider context of refurbishing our existing housing stock to a level that means all householders can afford to use energy efficiently in their homes.  It is unsustainable that existing initiatives to deliver energy efficiency projects raise their funds via people’s energy bills, and they have little control over how much is taken and how it is spent.  The proposals for zero carbon homes does give local people decision making powers – this needs to extend to initiatives such as the Green Deal.  The new Energy Company Obligation, the energy companies’ contribution to making the Green Deal affordable, will once again raise its funds via everyone’s energy bills.   This means community groups and councils representing their local community should be able to determine how it is spent.  I think the Green Deal itself will give people more choice, because it will be up to them to decide whether the costs and savings of improving their homes add up and whether they want to add the cost to their energy bill.

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Written by Cllr. Gary Porter   
Monday, 25 July 2011 10:50

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Dr Elaine McMahon CBE, Chief Executive and Principal, Hull College, Chair, Association of Colleges Sustainable Futures Group



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