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'No subsidy' blow for zero-carbon housing targets

The government’s target for all new houses to be net zero-carbon by 2016 – equal to the Code for Sustainable Homes’ Level 6 requirements – has been severely dented after developers learned they would not be eligible for ‘green subsidies’.

Developers had hoped to recoup money spent on on-site renewable-energy systems via Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs): ‘tokens’ that can be sold back to energy-supply companies.

However, housebuilders bidding in English Partnerships’ Carbon Challenge competition have been told by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) that they cannot rely on ROCs to subsidise the maintenance and running costs of a Code Level 6 home.

A leading sustainability engineer working on one of the entries into the contest, which aims to create the first net zero-carbon community at the Hanham Hall site in Bristol, told the AJ: ‘Every developer competing for the job placed ROCs at the centre of their business model. It blows a massive hole in the economics of building Code Level 6 homes.

‘It becomes an added obstacle for the developer. The developer can pay for all the plant to provide the renewable electricity, but it will not pay for the running costs and maintenance of the on-site renewables. It means it is no longer sustainable in business terms.’

According to BRE consultant Alan Yates, the stipulation has always been there, and if someone wishes to claim ROCs they need to be producing ‘additional energy’ in order to sell it back to energy-supply companies.

‘I can understand why these companies have gone down this route – any business looks at the most cost-effective methods – but it should have been quite evident,’ Yates said.

‘But what this means is people are looking more seriously at how they can provide Code Level 6 houses.’

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