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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Green home wish 'not granted'
Nedira Yakir
Nedira Yakir says she was told she wanted a grant at the wrong time
Lecturer Nedira Yakir of Exeter remortgaged her house to free up some equity to turn it into a dream home - by trying to make it as environmentally friendly as possible.

But she contacted the BBC News website to complain of her frustration at being met with "red tape and apathy" as she went about trying to achieve her goal.

In particular, she was frustrated to find she could not get a grant towards energy saving devices including solar panels.

If you have any other story ideas - send them to the BBC using the form at the bottom of the page.

The environmental credentials of Ms Yakir put to shame the comparatively tokenistic efforts of many of us who simply recycle paper and glass bottles.

After moving to the UK from Israel in 1973, Ms Yakir became part of a "semi-loose" collective of eco-friendly individuals in Cornwall who farmed organically and did everything they could to live the most environmentally-friendly existence possible.

"We lived without electricity for the first 10 years," she said.

No surprise then that the 63-year-old, having remortgaged her Victorian terrace to free up equity for home improvements, should want to maintain her green sensibilities.

Part of her green wish list was the installation of solar panels.

But she was told by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) earlier this year that there was no grant available for energy-saving devices at that time.

This, she was told, was because of a gap between the end of the government's previous grant programmes for energy-saving devices and their replacement - the new Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP).

The whole experience left her angry and frustrated, she said.

"The whole environmental support that the government prides itself on is big lip service."

'Awful planning'

Martin Williams, of Friends of the Earth, says there is "no defence" for the gap between the grant programmes.

Solar panels, Chesterfield
The solar-powered roof of a sports centre in Chesterfield

"That's an awful piece of planning," he said.

"The government set the [original] Clear Skies programme grants up to establish a solar industry. These companies were set up as a result."

But, because of the hiatus, "there were companies that went bust and other companies that had to scale back", he added.

The Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) said the last call for grants under the old schemes was February 2006 and that the LCBP programme began in April.

Jim Kenney, director of Hertfordshire-based Chelsfield Solar, said that for his firm and many others like it, the gap led to "a famine". This was because, without grants, people were discouraged from buying solar panels, he added.

"It did a lot of damage to a rapidly-growing industry," he said.

We spent some months without managing to take an order
Chelsfield Solar

"We saw it coming and we worked like crazy to try to get enough jobs coming in. We spent some months without managing to take an order."

But, though business had subsequently improved after the introduction of the LCBP, he said he feared the industry was once again "almost certainly" on the verge of a similar famine.

He is concerned because he says the LCBP, in the six months since it began, has already allocated a substantial amount of its 6.5m grant funding over the next three years for household applications. The government says some 2.7m has already been allocated.

"There is debate about whether they'll use the pot until everything's gone," Mr Kenney said.

If grant money stopped for any period of time, installers would "either crash or drift away," he said.

'Monitoring levels'

Mr Kenney's concerns are shared by the Renewable Energy Association.

The Association said the grant allocations had "started moving so fast" that there might come a point where the Energy Saving Trust would stop awarding them.

"That would be disastrous," head of renewable power Gaynor Hartnell said.

"Business would just stop."

The DTI and EST keep the grant awards under constant review and we are confident that there will be sufficient funds for the duration of the programme

But the government spokesman said that, while 6.5m was earmarked for householder grants at the launch of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, the department would be "monitoring the payout levels to ensure funds are available throughout the three years".

"The DTI and EST keep the grant awards under constant review and we are confident that there will be sufficient funds for the duration of the programme."

Anyone interested in conserving energy and reducing emissions should visit the EST website, he said.

The spokesman also responded to criticism that gaps in funding put some householders off installing energy-saving devices and that they put pressures on installers.

Nedira Yakir
This is my last chance to have the house I wanted. I was denied
Nedira Yakir

The grants policy aimed to develop a sustainable industry "able to stand alone without government subsidy", he said.

Progress in this regard had been proven by the fact that some high street retailers were now selling micro-wind turbines and solar panels, he added.

"Installers and householders can and should be able to move forward without relying on government funding."

Ms Yakir, meanwhile says the fact that no grant was available in the limited period of time she had set aside for her home improvements meant she had to rule out solar panels.

"I wanted my house to be environmentally friendly," she said.

"That possibility was taken away from me so I had to compromise.

"This was my last chance to have the house I wanted. I was denied."

Wind turbine: Makes use of UK's windy conditions, but performance varies. Costs from about 1,500 - grants may be available.
Solar panels: Sun's energy used to heat water. Can produce 100% of needs in summer. From about 2,000 - grants may be available.
Photovoltaic cells: Sun's energy used to generate electricity. Needs only daylight to work. From 4,000 - grants may be available.
Double glazing: Halves heat lost through windows.
Ground source heat pump: Uses heat stored in ground to warm water and help run central heating. Costs from about 6,400.
Insulation: More than half of the heat in uninsulated homes escapes through walls and the roof.
Water butt: Collects rain water to use on garden. Inexpensive.

Your comments

The public is ahead of the government on this
Terry Miller, Lincoln, UK
Mrs Yakir shows just how hard it is to be environmentally friendly - the public is ahead of the government on this and with more encouragement the take up would be good, and the new industries would flourish. Only the dedicated pioneers can do it - the rest of us will never follow until it's made easy.
Terry Miller, Lincoln, UK

In the village where we live we have had a plan for 18 months for a village-scale heat main powered by renewable energy - two/ three villages in the area have similar schemes. But despite much voluntary work, we cannot proceed because the grant for all 3 would use up the total grant money for the whole country for domestic green energy! And yet it would not only be green but keep money in this low-waged rural area, provide employment, and alleviate fuel poverty - and improve air quality since many people burn coal.
David Thorpe, Machynlleth, Wales

I'm involved with a small housing association, interested in installing solar panels and/or tubes. But we're in an Edwardian Conservation Area, and planning officers advise us that we'd be extremely unlikely to get permission. So what *are* the government's priorities? (And does anyone know a source of Edwardian solar panels?!)
Mike Brayshaw, Worthing, UK

I think this is great step towards saving energy. In Bhutan houses are heated by using firewood and electricity. We are creating more damage to environment by cutting too many trees to provide heat during the cold winter. Similarly people are wasting electricity power because of poor insulation of the houses. We have good houses but people lack the technology to insulate houses to retain heat in the house. I think NGOs should come forward to train more skilled people and send them around the world to help countries who needed their help.
Lhundup Dukpa, Bhutan

It is essential that everyone leads an increasingly green lifestyle
Lionel Previn, Bristol
It sounds like a good idea Nedira - I hope you get what you want, and enthuse other people in the process. I think you're right, apathy is a huge obstacle. It is essential that everyone leads an increasingly green lifestyle, or accelerate ever faster towards extinction.
Lionel Previn, Bristol

I would love to use a lot of these technologies but they are so prohibitively expensive. For example I was quoted 15-18,000 for a ground source installation. One of the reasons these things cost so much is because not enough people are buying them. Government needs to legislate and to insist that ALL new houses are fitted with these green systems, which would mean more companies getting into the business, more r&d investment, higher volumes and therefore lower prices. Why doesn't somebody in politics make it their goal to have every home in Britain benefiting from some if not all of these technologies?
Julian Young, St Austell, Cornwall

I was told that the grants were only towards the installation costs, not on the products. What about all us DIY-ers, who cannot afford to pay someone to fit things, cannot they offer tax-breaks to the manufacturers, so that they can sell the products at a price we can afford? I would love to have a home that is entirely self-sufficient, but the cost is very high and I don't have that kind of cash.
Caroline Williams, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

The grant scheme for renewables in Scotland is separate and different from that in England and Wales. The Scottish Executive are clearly behind making micro renewables a possibility for the individual homeowner. I recently installed solar panels on my house with a grant from SCHRI (Scottish Community and Householdes Renewables Incentives) for up to a 1/3rd of the cost. The whole administrative process for receiving the grant was quick and efficient. I now plan on installing a domestic wind turbine under the same scheme. Well done the Scottish Executive - an example for Westminster to follow.
Jonathan White, Aberdeen, Scotland

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19 Sep 06 |  Gloucestershire
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