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Concerns raised over RHI impact on social housing and pollution

The Government's failure to publish the domestic tariff levels in the RHI announcement will result in the immediate cancellation of many scheduled installations in the social housing sector, one manfacturer has claimed. Meanwhile, Environmental Protection UK is warning of an increase in air pollution...
Simon Lomax, managing director of Kensa Engineering, a UK manufacturer of ground source heat pumps, told his concerns. He said: 'Many social housing providers have recognised that heat pumps provide an ideal solution in off-gas grid locations where tenants struggle to pay for heating oil or are burdened with ineffective and expensive electric storage heaters. In these instances, heat pumps dramatically reduce energy bills and can decrease carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent.'

Mr Lomax claims there are many on-going installation programmes which have been hitherto supported by energy suppliers under their Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) obligations, which will now be suspended pending further information on the tariffs, not expected until 2012.

He added: 'The social housing providers are in an impossible position. They have lost the traditional sources of financial support for their heat pump programmes, namely CERT and the Government's Low Carbon Buildings Programme. On both occasions, they were reassured that the RHI would be launched in April 2011 to provide on-going support. Now we learn this is not the case. How can a social housing provider commit to investment without any certainty on the tariffs? Worse, DECC cannot even advise whether social landlords will qualify for the interim Premium Payment, intended to provide a bridge to the RHI's launch in late 2012. As a consequence, all the planned 2011 installations are inevitably on hold which will be a bitter disappointment to tenants who anticipated an end to their excessive energy costs.'

Environmental Protection UK (EPUK) have also voiced concerns about the RHI, warning that it could lead to an increase in air pollution, especially in urban areas.

By offering households regular payments for installing eligible renewable heat systems, including biomass burners such as wood fired boilers. EPUK say the biomass heating systems can release relatively high levels of air pollutants when fuel is burned, a potential health risk in towns and cities, especially where air quality already reaches harmful levels.

The RHI promotes the use of biomass heating systems in households and public buildings no matter where they are located.

James Grugeon, EPUK's chief executive, said, 'EPUK welcomes any scheme that promotes the use of renewable heating and microgeneration, but not at the unwarranted expense of public health.' Mr Grugeon added that the RHI shows 'disregard for the quality of our air and public health in already polluted urban areas.'

EPUK are instead advocating a location based approach to renewable heat and power systems, including small-scale 'microgeneration', which would see local authorities have a greater say in where they can be deployed, ensuring health impacts are minimised and the most effective locations for the technologies are promoted.

James Grugeon added: 'The RHI highlights the need for a rethink on the government's microgeneration strategy. It's a step in the right direction, but this broad-brush approach to installing renewables shows there is a lack of understanding about the local health impacts they can have and also where they work best. With more planning and collaboration with local authorities, microgeneration systems could be installed in places with the highest carbon benefit and the lowest health impact. The RHI shouldn't miss this opportunity.'
18 March 2011


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