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Renewable Energy (Public Buildings)

Volume 467: debated on Thursday 22 November 2007

6. If he will hold discussions with ministerial colleagues on the installation in all new public buildings of low-carbon electricity and heat generators powered from renewable energy sources. (166787)

I regularly meet Ministers in other Departments, in particular the Department for Communities and Local Government, to determine how to improve the overall sustainability of both new and existing non-domestic buildings, including those owned or occupied by the public sector. The hon. Gentleman is right: new public buildings should be exemplars of energy efficiency, renewable technologies and sustainable development.

I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful response. May I encourage him to develop incentives across central Government and, in particular, local government, so that what he has been discussing with ministerial colleagues can be delivered? For example, two major public buildings—a new art gallery and a new football stadium—are currently being constructed in my constituency, neither of which have any energy-producing mechanisms. Had the incentives been there, those would have been included.

At the moment, the picture is mixed, and that is not good enough. There is good news in Croydon: the Ashburton learning village, which includes a new school, has a fantastic array of photovoltaics. It is good example of how—through both the low-carbon buildings programme and the work of the Department for Children, Schools and Families—a lot more money is going into renewable technologies in our schools. That has not only an environmental impact, but an educational one, because when children learn about their relationship to energy and energy’s relationship to global warming, we begin to win the minds, as well as the hearts, of the next generation. I recognise that we need to do more.

Has my hon. Friend had a chance to see the report from the Renewables Advisory Board, which was published yesterday? Apparently, the RAB says that the market for equipping zero-carbon homes with energy from renewables could amount to almost £2 billion a year, but that under current projections, there will not be enough firms supplying biomass boilers or solar panels to meet the increase in zero-carbon housing. What is he doing to help meet the Government’s admirable targets in this area, which were set out by the Prime Minister earlier this week?

The key text is Sir Nicholas Stern’s report. I think that we all recognise that although we have a challenge in terms of global warming, we also have an economic and commercial opportunity. There will be an array of new business opportunities and new businesses as we grapple—it is a challenge—with concepts such as zero-carbon dwellings, renewable technologies and the decommissioning of various plants. These are new opportunities for British business, and the Secretary of State is absolutely determined that our Department will lead the way in greening Britain’s industry to rise to the environmental challenge and the immense commercial opportunity.

The Minister will know that, irrespective of how one accesses the energy, investment in conservation is far more economically effective. Will he therefore give an assurance that for all public buildings—particularly those being refurbished—the Government will look again at how to ensure that conservation is built in at the very heart of the design of new construction and refurbishment?

Yes, that is vital. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in central Government, every Department has targets to reduce its own emissions and to become more sustainable. There are major challenges in relation to new building. However, on housing construction, I am impressed that the Minister for Housing now has a taskforce, of which I am a part, working with the construction industry on these issues. I understand, however, that we are talking about not just house building, but buildings in general.

I welcome the Minister’s comments about the economic potential of new industries in this area. May I bring to his attention the vast potential of geothermal energy, which is often overlooked? Not only does it involve the lowest carbon consumption, but it offers enormous potential to companies, such as Forkers in my constituency, that are pioneering developments in it. Will he undertake to look at building regulations on public buildings to see how geothermal energy can be promoted?

Yes, and work is under way on that. Geothermal energy is an important technology. It is one of an array of renewable technologies that we need to consider. We need to find ways of incentivising some of the newer technologies more than, say, onshore wind farms, and we are looking closely at how that can be done. It is important that those involved with zero-carbon housing and other buildings come together with the energy world, which is concerned with microgeneration and local energy systems, so that we join those two important pieces of the puzzle. I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing just that, together with the Department for Communities and Local Government.