Environmental Law News Update

October 14, 2020

In this latest Environmental Law News Update, Charles Morgan, Christopher Badger and Mark Davies consider the new Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill 2019-21, proposed regulations on ecodesign requirements for household appliances and refrigeration and the launch of the Green Homes Grant scheme.

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill 2019-21

This Private Member’s Bill was introduced by the Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP on 5 February 2020. The draft bill and explanatory notes were published yesterday and the Bill will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 13 November 2020. It is described as “A Bill to place a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters; and for connected purposes”.

The substantive provisions of the Bill constitute a concise three-and-a-half pages of text enacting two sections. Its effect would be to introduce into to the Water Industry Act 1991 a new Chapter 1ZA, comprising four new sections 17ZA to 17ZD. These petite parameters belie the aim and reach of the Bill, which might be described as the winding-back of the consequences of the last 200 years or so from the adoption in the United Kingdom of the water carriage system of sewage disposal. Shortly put, that led to the creation of a system of combined sewers receiving and admixing both foul water and rainwater, all of which was then carried and discharged through the same pipes into inland and coastal waters, effectively turning those waters into parts of the system itself as a natural network of pipes and receptacles. The rainwater element being hugely variable and unpredictable, the system had to provide managed and designed relief from surcharging and did so via the now notorious combined sewer overflows (CSOs), of which we have written recently, see issues 140 and 142. In the latter article we noted the initial appearance of the Bill and speculated as to whether it would, as its short description suggested, seek to go further than the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive in curbing discharges from CSOs altogether, without the present exclusion of “exceptional circumstances” (which, we noted, had seemingly occurred on some 200,000 known occasions during 2019).

The Bill in fact strikes a middle ground. At its heart is the proposed new section 17ZA(1): “A water company in England must take all reasonable steps to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into inland waters.” This is fleshed out by a non-exhaustive list of reasonable steps in section 17ZB, including the maintenance of a register of CSOs “and any other sewer catchment assets from which discharges of treated or untreated sewage may be made to inland waters” (which would thus seem to catch all continuous discharges too), the biannual publication of reports on their “operational status”, progressively improved monitoring of performance, and planning to ensure the introduction of additional biological treatment at wastewater treatment works and that “reliance upon CSOs is progressively reduced”.

Section 17ZC would impose annual reporting duties upon the Secretary of State, including an indication of what steps it is proposed to take to achieve fulfilment of the s. 17ZA duty. This identifies and elaborates upon five broad types of measures, namely:

  • measures intended to separate surface water and sewage collection – s. 17ZC(3)
  • measures intended to reduce the volume of sewage produced by domestic properties – s. 17ZC(4)
  • measures to reduce the polluting content of sewage – s.17ZC(5)
  • measures intended to reduce the impact of CSO discharges – s.17SC(6)
  • measures intended to promote improvements in bathing water quality in inland waters – s. 17ZC(7).

These repay full reading. The attempt to gather together and strengthen the various strands of possible solutions is laudable, as is the imposition of rather more specific duties on the companies, the Secretary of State, the Environment Agency and Ofwat than are to be found in current legislation.

The Explanatory Notes state that the Bill requires neither a Money Resolution (the only cost to Government is that of the reporting) nor a Ways and Means Resolution (“because it does not authorise new taxation or similar charges on the people”). The cost of implementing its aims would however necessarily be extremely high and inevitably funded largely or entirely by increases in water and sewerage service charges, which would certainly be politically unpopular. It may nevertheless be that the time has come for facing up to the chronic problems on which the Bill shines a light and its Parliamentary progress will be watched with interest. It already enjoys the support of The Rivers Trust, Surfers Against Sewage, The Wildlife Trusts, Blueprint for Water, The Angling Trust, The Chalk Aquifer Alliance and Salmon and Trout Conservation.

Government consults on draft Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Regulations 2021

The Government is consulting on proposed regulations to update ecodesign requirements for electric motors, household washing machines and washer-dryers, household dishwashers, household refrigeration and electronic displays as well as regulations to introduce ecodesign requirements for welding equipment and commercial refrigeration and energy labelling requirements for commercial refrigeration.

Goods such as washing machines and televisions, which have an impact on energy consumption whether in use or in standby mode, currently account for about 55% of the UK’s total non-transport energy use.

However, the Government isn’t proposing at this time to exceed the requirements that the UK agreed at EU level. Household washing machines and washer-dryers placed on the UK market are subject to existing ecodesign and energy labelling regulations, Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1015/2010 and Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1061/2010. In January 2019, the UK together with other Member States, voted in favour of updating these Regulations. Household dishwashers are similarly regulated. The draft 2021 Regulations simply reflect the agreement made by the UK as a Member State in January 2019.

The Government states that it expects these draft regulations to save 15.8 TWh of electricity by 2050 in the domestic sector, the equivalent of up to a £3 billion reduction on household energy bills. Whilst this sounds impressive, given that there are just under 28 million households in the UK, the author’s rough calculations appear to identify that this is a saving of approximately £3.50 a year for each household, every year from now until 2050.

It is proposed that there will be a further review no later than 7 years from the application dates of the Regulations.

Interestingly, the impact assessment indicates that the Government did not consider adopting more stringent ecodesign requirements than that agreed with the EU. An example of ‘equivalence’ in action, but it doesn’t suggest an overarching desire to fly a green flag.

The deadline for responding to the consultation is 11 November 2020. The consultation itself can be found here

The Green Homes Grant: Hit or Miss?

To much fanfare (at least in some circles…) the Green Homes Grant scheme was launched on 30 September. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said of it:

“We promised to support jobs and protect the environment – and the Green Homes Grant delivers on this. We’re giving homeowners, landlords and local authorities the funding they need to hire local tradespeople and make our homes more energy efficient. By supporting the green van men and women, we’ll save money, save jobs and save the planet.”

Quite the claim.

Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS being the Government department responsible for the Green Homes Grant) said this:

“Our plan to upgrade the nation’s buildings and help build back better is good news for jobs, the environment and people’s back pockets, as we reduce emissions and help cut energy bills.”

“I urge everyone to visit the Green Homes Grants website to see how they can make the most of this fantastic scheme.”

Our intrepid bloggers have been to the Green Homes Grant website to see how the Government’s claims stack up.

The website, www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk, is pleasingly easy to use and takes a user through a series of questions to determine eligibility (the first question is ‘Is this property in England?’ – spoiler alert, if you select ‘No’, you’re not eligible).

If you own a property in England (in which you live, or of which you are the landlord) and that property isn’t a new build, you may be eligible for a voucher to fund up to 2/3 of the cost of hiring tradespeople to upgrade the energy performance of your home (up to a maximum of £5,000 or £10,000 if any member of your household is in receipt of certain benefits).

So far, so good. Assuming you meet those criteria, the website then requires answers to a series of questions concerning your property (no. of floors, current type of roof insulation, wall insulation, etc.)

Having complete those steps, the website churns out what your options are under the Green Homes Grant (for which it uses the acronym, GHG… which it’s difficult not to read as Green House Gases…) and herein lies the problem with the scheme: certain measures under the scheme are primary (solid wall, cavity wall, under-floor, loft, flat roof, pitched roof, room in roof and park home insulation, as well as air source and ground source heat pumps, solar thermal, biomass boilers and hybrid heat pumps) whereas others are secondary (draught proofing, double or triple glazing where replacing single, energy efficient replacement doors, hot water tank thermostats and insulation and heating controls) and you can only get at the secondary measures if you have used one of the primary measures, and then only for the same value as the primary measure.

So, for example, if you live in a flat in Central London that is well insulated and has a modern boiler, but that only has single glazing, your only primary option may be an air source heat pump, which depending on the flat may be impractical. However, you cannot access any money for double or triple glazing unless you make use of a primary option… which isn’t really an option.

The verdict on the Green Home Grant scheme has to be that it’s a hit. Many home owners and landlords will be able to take advantage of the benefits it offers, and this no doubt will support jobs and, hopefully, reduce carbon emissions, but one is left wondering why the Government hasn’t seen fit to structure the scheme so that the minority of home owners or landlords who won’t be able to take advantage of a primary measure, are permitted to use that voucher for a secondary measure instead.

A hit, but slightly wide of the bullseye.

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