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Local MP Greg Barker talks energy solutions in Bexhill. With him, from left, Richard Watson, Sandy Rodger and Donna Hume.

Tackling the energy crisis

Pincered between climate change and recession, how do we tackle the energy crisis? Or, in the words of Sandy Rodger, who chaired a public debate in Bexhill recently, how do we solve the conundrum of achieving energy that is both affordable and sustainable? It’s a vital question, and amid the welter of claims and counter-claims, it’s often hard to keep a clear head, but some positive pointers emerged at the meeting. Nick Terdre reports.

One of the speakers was Greg Barker, Tory MP for Bexhill and Rother and minister of state in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. He is one of the moving forces behind the Green Deal, the government’s latest offering for tackling rising residential fuel bills and the growing problem of fuel poverty.

The Green Deal aims to improve the heating efficiency of homes, providing up-front funds to install an efficient boiler, double glazing or whatever may be needed. Some of the subsequent savings on the lower fuel bills that result go towards paying off the loan and householders are guaranteed not to have to pay back more than they save.

Our housing stock is so energy inefficient that we need to retrofit all Britain’s homes, Mr Barker said – not on an individual basis but street by street and area by area. Some 150 local authorities have already signed up to participate in implementing the Green Deal, he said (Hastings and Rother have decided to participate in a bid for Green Deal funding led by West Sussex County Council, HOT understands).

The Green Deal includes other measures specifically aimed at households in fuel poverty – in other words, which spend more than 10% of their income on fuel bills. The Energy Company Obligation (Eco) Order obliges energy suppliers to undertake measures to make the heating of such homes more affordable, such as repairing or replacing the boiler or solid wall insulation. It is up to the householder to set the wheels in motion.

This is a positive initiative but will have limited effect, according to another of the speakers, Richard Watson. It is forecast that Eco will take 125-150,000 households out of fuel poverty – but given that there are 2.7 million households in this category, that is only around 5%, pointed out Mr Watson, a director of energy action group Energise Sussex Coast.

After the meeting he suggested to Mr Barker that it would be a good idea to run an Eco pilot in local communities with high fuel poverty rates such as Sidley and Hollington, and, he tells HOT, Mr Barker agreed. We await further news.

Eco will have a limited effect because of its limited funds. But a radical proposal for raising much higher levels of funding has been launched by the Energy Bill Revolution movement, an alliance of some 130 NGOs, charities, trade unions, businesses, politicians and public figures, that carbon taxes raised by the energy bill now going through Parliament – which are expected to amount to some £4 billion a year – should be ring-fenced for improving the heating efficiency of our homes. This would make it possible to end fuel poverty in nine out of 10 affected homes, the alliance claims.

Decarbonisation target

The final form of the energy bill will help to determine how fast we move towards a sustainable energy future in the long term. At present it provides for a decarbonisation target for 2030 to be set in 2016 – but we need that target to be set now and included in the bill, the meeting was told by energy campaigner Donna Hume of Friends of the Earth.

By 2050 the UK is legally committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels. However, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has made clear his own determination to take the UK into another dash-for-gas which would seriously threaten our ability to meet our emissions commitment. The energy bill needs to have provisions for boosting renewable power generation, otherwise by the time of the next elections in 2015, we will have Osborne-inspired gas-fired plants dominating the energy landscape – this was the most important energy issue for this government, Ms Hume said.

In the long run, the cheapest way of meeting our long-term emissions commitments is through boosting renewable energy generation, she said. Greg Barker is also an enthusiastic supporter of renewable energy. There was an outcry when the government reduced the feed-in tariffs for solar energy, he said, but this reflected the falling cost of solar energy generation – the average cost of putting an array of solar panels on a house roof has come down from £12,000 to £5,000. He is now fronting a road-show of solar energy firms around Britain to spread the message.

There is a fantastic potential in renewable energies at both the national and the local level, Richard Watson said – let’s not allow any political party to go to the next elections without a clear policy on renewable energy in their manifesto.

And Sandy Rodger, who chaired the meeting? He is chairman of Transition Rye, another interesting energy initiative by a local community. That will have to be another story.


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Posted 10:56 Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 In: Green Times

Also in: Green Times

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