Monday, February 25, 2013

Sustainable Real Estate

At a recent meeting of GACSO - the Global Association of Corporate Sustainability Officers - Lynn Cook, Real Estate Associate at DWF, explained how legislation is driving sustainability in the property sector. The key legislation is the Energy Act 2011. This comes into effect in 2018 and provides that any property with less than an E rating may not be let. 25% of offices are currently below this efficiency rating (and 45% are currently below D).

The legislation applies to existing leases, not just renewals or new leases. Landlords will find pressure from mortgage lenders and in turn will put pressure on rents in order to recover the costs of improvements. There may be some help from the Green Deal, launched in January. This is a scheme based on the “pay as you save” principle. Loans are advanced for the cost of approved energy-saving work and repayments are recovered via the electricity bill. The Golden Rule is that energy savings should be greater than or equal to the repayments. So far uptake of the scheme has been slow. The problem for the commercial sector is that the landlord’s and the tenant’s interests are not necessarily aligned. The landlord makes the improvements but the tenant is often the bill-payer.

The government is still supporting renewable energy. The feed-in tariff (FIT) for solar energy is still a good deal, even after the government’s backtracking on the rate of subsidy, which sent a number of solar installers to the wall. The Renewable Heat Incentive, covering biomass, heat pumps and solar thermal, has been much more carefully thought through and will now make these systems cost-effective in many more situations.

Now is the time for landlords to survey their current stock and determine what needs to be done to bring it up to E or above. Or maybe just to dispose of it. Introducing so-called “green leases” putting more of the obligation for energy efficiency on the tenant, is another way of reducing the landlord’s burden.

For the future, it is difficult to tell whether efficient buildings will have an enhanced capital value - or whether leaky buildings will plummet in value as 2018 approaches. Maybe there will be a mad refurbishment panic at the end of 2017. The government is not expected to move from the 2018 deadline. After the FIT disaster it is much more organised.