Sunday 18 August 2013

Brent project seeks to reduce fuel poverty and carbon emissions

The Brent Campaign Against Climate Change, of which I am chair, has had preliminary discussions with Cllr Roxanne Mashari, lead member for the Environment, on the possibility of setting up a Low Carbon Zone in the borough after our Secretary, Ken Montague, made a presentation to the Brent Executive.

That is selecting an area where a concerted programme of measures aimed at reducing energy consumption through structural changes (roof and wall insulation, double glazing, micro-generation) and educational initiatives. It would include housing, businesses, schools and public buildings in the area. The LCZ would serve as an exemplar, that after valuation could be rolled out across the borough in due course.

We pointed out that  money was available through the ECO (Energy Company Obligation) which is designed to tackle fuel poverty, affordable warmth and carbon emissions at zero cost to those in highest need.

I therefore welcome a report that goes before Monday's Executive which sets out a tender process to find a project partner to deliver an ECO programme in Brent. LINK

The report sets out the project aims:
The project’s key objectives are to:-
      • Improve the energy efficiency of properties and reduce energy consumption
      • Reduce carbon emissions,
      • Reduce consumer energy costs and alleviate fuel poverty; and,
      • Safeguard and create employment opportunities.
As the project’s primary requirement is to deliver the required improvements to domestic properties, the delivery partner will be required to treat domestic properties as the service priority, i.e. marketing its services, facilitating customers, explaining and securing the sign-up and installation of appropriate energy efficiency improvements across the Borough. 
It is envisaged that a significant portion of the market and therefore a key target for the project will be ‘hard to treat’ domestic properties i.e. those that cannot accommodate cost-effective measures and may therefore have missed out on previous energy improvements. These properties will have the potential to access ECO funding. Given the priority to be attributed to domestic interventions over non-domestic the balance of the finance, scope and value of the opportunity will favour the former. It is likely that any scheme will include the HRA stock as a priority but it should be stressed that fuel poverty and energy efficiency issues affect the growing private sector and there is an expectation that any scheme will seek to address these issues. 
Furthermore, in order to achieve long term investment in the Borough’s supply chain and employment opportunities, some form of confidence in the longevity of this market locally is required. Consequently a 5 year contract (with up to a two year extension if necessary) is sought, with a break clause included at the end of the first phase of ECO to safeguard against any major changes in legislation/obligations.
The report recognises, as with the LCZ, that an area by area approach may be beneficial:

The ECO is measured in terms of meeting carbon reduction targets; different types of energy efficiency works therefore attract different levels of funding. In addition, the situation of the existing tenant or homeowner can influence the level of funding given. A commercial partner may be likely to seek to meet its ECO obligations in the cheapest and most efficient way, for example by carrying out work on an estate or area basis to achieve economies of scale. Any commercial imperative will need to be balanced against the council’s own priorities in terms of the greatest benefit to low income households. 

There will be occasions whereby an area by area approach is the most appropriate and could offer wider regeneration opportunities and it is likely that stock within the HRA will fit this model. The position may be complicated by the presence of leasehold homes within a block - for example, if in a low- rise block of flats, external ECO funding was available to cover all of the social housing properties but within the block, 5% of flats were privately owned and considered ‘able to pay’. The position of leaseholders varies according to the terms of the lease: in some cases, the council is entitled to re-charge for improvements while in others this option may not be available. Since the expenditure in this case is not incurred by the council, it is envisaged that any re-charge would be waived. Additional staff resources may also be required to support the project and contract manage the partner. The specification will include an expectation that any requirement for this will be funded by the partner. Any other costs, which will include officer time, will be met from existing budgets.  

The Council has an existing long-standing SLA arrangement in place with ‘Energy Solutions’ and their role in this project in terms of stock analysis, encouraging take up and identifying our most vulnerable residents who require assistance needs to be formalised. 

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