The Resource05 conference at the BRE in Watford was billed as a 'low-carbon technology showcase'. Edward Hyams of the Energy Savings Trust insisted the Part L regulations - with the ink barely dry on the 2006 document - be tightened up for 2010. With few architects in the audience, nobody batted an eyelid.
The mayor of London has already announced a unilateral requirement that all new developments reduce predicted carbon emissions by 10 per cent through the use of on-site renewable energy sources and the discussion centred on ways of encouraging the extension of this and similar policies.
Chairman George Monbiot behaved in a creditably sustainable way? by not turning up!
'Microgeneration' (generating power locally rather than by centralised power sources) is the way forward, it seems. The current DTI consultation 'Microgeneration Strategy and Low Carbon Buildings Programme' - read in conjunction with the Energy White Paper - explores the need to increase 'micro-CHP, micro-wind, micro-hydro, solar thermal and photovoltaics, ground- and air-source heat pumps, fuel cells (and any other low-carbon small-scale generating technology)'. Part of the idea behind this, as energy minister Malcolm Wicks says, is to maintain a 'secure' supply of energy. Or, as Hyams put it, 'this is essential to insulate society from future energy shocks', Or maybe, as Robert Hastings of Architecture, Energy & Environment said, we need 'to instil terror in people to make them reduce energy useage' (regardless of whether the scare tactics are justifiable or not).
Most microgeneration technologies attract 5 per cent VAT incentivisation. The consultation document suggests other possible mechanisms to encourage take-up. Liberalising the planning laws to permit the construction of otherwise unacceptable wind turbines is just one of the policies under consideration. Indeed, Planning Policy Statement 22:
Renewable Energy (PPS 22) already states that 'local planning authorities should specifically encourage such schemes through positively expressed policies in local development documents'.
Making it easier for microgenerators to acquire Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) will also help make microgeneration more attractive. ROCs are like a carbon trading currency and the rules have been relaxed so that 'generating stations' with a declared net capacity of 50kW (or less) can claim money back, at market rates, from suppliers.
A peeved microgenerator in the audience demanded that the planning laws be changed to stop anyone building anything next to his house that might block extant wind flows.
As someone who regularly fed back into the grid the surplus from his wind turbine - and who had made a tiny profit off the generating companies - he felt he had a right to be heard.
It became apparent that discussing microgeneration was more than just an energy debate; it was a coded way of exploring ways of engaging people through the medium of 'community involvement' in local energy policy. The terms of debate involved into a kind of CHP (communal harmony project). But the problem is that generating power locally takes on the form of the energy equivalent of 'survivalism' - protecting your personal power generation against all comers.
'Other's lights may go out, but I still have my windmill.' The intention may be to reforge communities but at this rate the result will be to build a fragmented and frightened society of isolated, terrorised, wind-powered NIMBYs.