Renewables Grants Support Schools but Home Grants Still Limited

07 April 2008

Industry experts expressed frustration at the scale of the changes, claiming they failed to go far enough and would have limited impact on the take up of the government's controversial Low Carbon Building Programme (LCBP) grant scheme.


Under the latest round of changes to the scheme, announced today by energy minister Malcolm Wicks, the cap on grants to schools, charities and public sector bodies installing onsite renewable energy technologies will be increased to 50 per cent of the cost, while the £10m support currently available to householders will be extended until 2010 for new applications.


The changes, which take effect from tomorrow, will also be accompanied by reforms to planning legislation that are due to take effect from 6 April and will allow many home owners to install microgeneration equipment such as solar panels without the need for planning permission.


Speaking during a visit to Hampton Hill Junior School in Richmond, Middlesex, which received a government grant towards the cost of installing solar panels, Wicks said the changes would remove many of the barriers stopping people from installing onsite renewables.


"Overhauling the grants scheme makes small-scale green energy technology a more affordable option for public organisations, schools and charities," he said.


However, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said that the government had failed to address the fundamental flaws within the programme that had seen demand for grants from home owners plummet over the past year.


According to leaked documents uncovered earlier this year, the take up of grants slumped last year as a result of reforms to the LCBP that slashed the maximum grants available to £2,500, making many renewable energy installations uneconomical.


Andrew Cooper, head of on-site renewables at the REA said the government had "totally ignored" the renewable energy industry's calls for grants to be restored to their previous level of up to £7,500, which the government scrapped after the scheme became oversubscribed.


Cooper said the restoration of more generous grants would "boost interest from householders and provide a platform for the industry to move on to a mass market for household renewables". He added that with the government's own figures showing the scheme was on track to underspend by £10m over the next year, higher grants could be made available without breaking the existing budget.


"The government has totally ignored the advice of the renewable energy industry and the blindingly obvious evidence of their own statistics," he said. "Making a failing programme fail over a longer period is not a solution."


Friends of the Earth’s Low Carbon Homes campaigner, Ed Matthew, said that the scheme as it stands remains an "unmitigated disaster" that had resulted in a drop in renewable energy installations. He added that the LCBP fund should be 10 times larger and that the 50 per cent grants now offered to schools should be extended to home owners.


"The potential for tackling climate change through the housing sector is enormous," he said. "The government should support it by helping homes to save energy and install low-carbon energy systems such as solar panels, as part of its plans for tackling global warming."


With the government apparently unwilling to bolster its grant scheme for home owners, REA executive director Philip Wolfe said that it was now time for it to "move beyond government grants which have failed householders time and again" and instead look at alternative ways to promote adoption, such as feed-in tariffs.


The government is due to launch a review into how it will meet its EU target of generating 15 per cent of UK energy from renewable sources by 2020 this summer and has said that feed in tariffs will be one of the mechanisms explored.


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