There’s a sharp easterly wind blowing but Harrison Webster’s Norfolk home is warm in every room.

What’s going on here is a world first: polluting companies are paying for a domestic makeover to ditch the carbon.

His mum is happy, his cats are happy, there are no fossil fuels and lower bills. A great home improvement: “We had a pay-as-you-go meter and at times my mum was looking at the meter to see how much we had left, trying to budget her way around it. Now, it’s a lot cheaper, a lot more efficient, it feels more comfortable and it’s better for the environment”.

It was achieved with solar panels on the roof, a battery, a new boiler, a heat pump, new windows, doors and a super-insulated floor and roof.

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The total cost of £60,000 is way beyond the Webster family’s reach and too much for their housing association. It was paid for by carbon offsets: companies who emit carbon dioxide, like a housebuilder and brick maker paying to have an equivalent amount of CO2 cut from emissions elsewhere, in this case removing fossil fuels from social housing.

The scheme was put together by Powering Net Zero (PNZ). Their managing director is Simon Turek, who told Sky News: “We’re the only scheme globally that is originating carbon credits from the decarbonisation of homes.”

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PNZ Group is now working with over 140 housing providers and local authorities to help them finance their retrofit ambitions – with over 100,000 homes enrolled from across the UK.

Saffron Housing, who worked on Harrison’s home, plan on retrofitting another 434 properties to lower their tenants’ bills and their carbon footprint.

But one of the nagging questions over carbon offsets is whether they truly pay for additional work. In this case, how can the company be sure these green refits wouldn’t have happened anyway?

Simon says the national task is so big, it’ll need the extra money: “Decarbonising our homes is the single biggest challenge the UK faces towards achieving net zero. It is expected to cost in the order of half one trillion pounds. Government is able to contribute in the single digit billions, so there is a significant gap that private capital needs to fill.”

New equipment can be expensive when it comes to outright cost

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Electric trains are the future for green freight but costs are forcing firms back to diesel
Energy minister says hydrogen will ‘not play a major role’ in heating homes

With 13.5% of adults in England living in fuel poverty it’s clearly attractive to link helping the climate crisis with helping the cost of living crisis.

But the other criticism of carbon offsetting is that they provide an excuse for a polluting company to not get its own house in order: continuing to belch greenhouse gases and while paying for offsetting like a fine they can afford.

Tommy Ricketts founded BeZero Carbon, a ratings agency which rigorously checks the validity of carbon credits. He insists they are vital for reaching our climate goals and doesn’t think companies treat them as a dodge.

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Can net zero target be hit?

“The evidence suggests that those companies that do invest in carbon credits are twice as likely to decarbonise [their own operations] as those that don’t because it shows a signal that they’re actually willing to set themselves on that journey and take those hard decisions.”

Projects paid for by carbon offsetting are often seen as remote and unreliable. Having that money pay for upgrading our energy-hungry housing stock might make offsetting more trusted and more popular.

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