Developers who have pulled the plug on a district heating system for 2500 new homes on the outskirts of Exeter have been slammed for putting ‘profit before planet.’ The scheme backed by a consortium including Teignbridge District Council, Exeter City Council and Devon County Council, promised to cut carbon emissions and reduce heating costs for residents by using the heat produced from the energy-from-waste plant in Exeter.
Not fit for purpose
However, this is not the real scandal. Instead we should be outraged that developers are still building homes that are not fit for purpose when we face a Climate Emergency. If these corporate house builders really wanted to demonstrate climate action they would build homes that are so well insulated they don’t require heating at all, or at least only need minimal heating during the coldest weather. A district heating system that is used to heat brand new homes simply provides cover for developers to continue to build substandard, poorly insulated homes.
Zero carbon homes that are well insulated and are powered by renewable energy technologies are good for the planet and help keep running costs low for residents. And they are totally feasible, as has been proven by Exeter’s excellent Passiv Council house building programme.
Neither can the heat produced from incineration be considered ‘green energy’. It’s been dubbed low carbon on the basis that the energy from the waste plant is equivalent to and ‘replaces’ that produced by a gas-fired power station. This conveniently ignores the fact that at 51,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, the incinerator is probably the largest carbon emitter in Exeter. Transferring the heat created from incineration to the new homes also required a costly public backing of £7.3m in infrastructure.
When the energy-from-waste plant was built, it was explained that the heat generated would be used for heating in the industrial estate. This has never happened. If we really must burn colossal amounts of waste, it would be far better that the heat created is used to heat existing buildings – that may be much harder to fully insulate, or failing that, at least to heat the water to new homes.
A scheme that provides a massive subsidy to developers, who in turn profit further by cutting costs through building to poor environmental standards, is the real scandal. Exeter Green Party has challenged Labour-led Exeter City Council to use the new Local Plan to require all future housing developments to be net zero carbon. This way developers will have no choice but to build homes fit for the Climate Emergency.
Diana Moore, Green Party Councillor for St David’s ward, Exeter
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