Monday, April 16, 2012

Civil war breaks out in Government over green policies

Latent divisions in the coalition government have broken out into a war of words, as Tories challenge the Green Deal and wind farm plans, in a bid to influence next session's legislative programme before May 9th's Queen's Speech.

Energy minister Greg Barker appeared to signal a shift in policy over the weekend by saying that Britain already has “the wind we need” either being built, developed or in planning. “It’s about being balanced and sensible,” he said.

“We inherited a policy from the last government which was unbalanced in favour of onshore wind. There have been some installations in insensitive or unsuitable locations - too close to houses, or in an area of outstanding natural beauty,” he added.

Senior Conservatives in the Coalition are plotting how to reduce support for onshore wind power, with one eye on their electoral chances in rural areas.

They have seen Chris Huhne's resignation as an opportunity to take curb green policies. "Chris Huhne’s zealous ambition is being reined back,” one top Whitehall source is reported as saying. “There’s already enough [wind farms] being built and developed."

But a Department for Energy and Climate Change spokesperson said there was ‘no U-turn on wind farms’, adding: ‘This is not a change in policy.”

Telegraph campaign

Leading Conservatives have also launched a campaign to kill the Green Deal in the Telegraph, which seems to be running a persistent campaign against the coalition government's energy policies.

The paper reports the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, the housing minister Grant Shapps, and the employment minister Chris Grayling, calling the Green Deal a stealth “conservatory tax” on householders. They claim it will add around 10% to a typical bill for home improvements, But they fail to consider the longer term benefits of reduced energy bills.

"We don't think this should extend to a 'conservatory tax' situation. The compulsion elements are over-the-top," a Government source said.

The ministers called for the entire Green Deal to be scrapped. The Sunday Telegraph quoted them as saying: "The Green Deal was Chris Huhne's baby. He has gone now and it is the right time to kill it off. Forcing people to pay thousands of pounds for unwanted extra home insulation is the last thing hard-pressed families need at the moment. It's madness."

A new Energy Bill containing the latest policies will form part of the Queen’s Speech, and is due in a few weeks' time.

DECC fights back

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg hit back, calling reports that householders would have to pay thousands of pounds extra to do “simple things like insulating their homes”...“ludicrous scare stories”.

Chris Huhne has also responded, saying, "Top Tories should stop posturing on green plans that help hard-hit households".

And Greg Barker has called the attacks on the Green Deal "bonkers", and pointed out that the policy was in the Coalition agreement and had been developed by the Conservatives in opposition.

Nick Clegg only last week mounted a strong public defence of the Green Deal, promising customers will never be "charged more for the home improvements than we expect them to make back in cheaper bills. Plus the charge is attached to the property, rather than the person, so if you move, you stop paying. That is maximum affordability, with savings that should more than cover costs."

The facts about the coalition's green policies

It's worth restating a few salient facts around the issues of the coalition’s climate change and energy policies:

  1. 463 MPs voted for the Climate Act, and only three against it.

  2. Other countries are following suit, with Mexico passing a Climate Act next month, and Germany and Australia also having targets to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.

  3. The clean technology sector is one of the few areas of the economy experiencing growth, and the CBI has consistently called for no further changes to energy policies to give investors confidence.

  4. The impact of green policies on energy bills is minimal: according to Ofgem, the cost of nuclear decommissioning is about £266 per year for a UK household, whereas support for solar power adds £2 per year, or about 0.15% of the UK average dual fuel bill.

On the Green Deal:

  1. The standard assessment procedure (SAP), used to calculate how much households will save from the Green deal measures, is as accurate as possible, as it is based on a survey of thousands of homes and is being constantly updated to take account of the latest research and experience of energy saving measures.

  2. The cost of the measures will be calculated to be less than the savings achieved by the measures applied, known as the 'golden rule', and will be financed by applying a pre-agreed charge to the building's electricity bill.

  3. The government says that there will still be enough cash left over for occupiers to experience reduced bills as well.

  4. The length of the repayment period can be adjusted to make the golden rule work; up to 25 years in some cases.

  5. Assessment can only be done by UKAS-accredited certification companies in much the same way as EPCs are presently done, i.e. by a competent person who has been trained and is certificated.

  6. Assessments will not be free, but usually carried out as a loss-leader by companies who are also providing the installations. It’s therefore only fair that they will be given some of the resulting work.

  7. There will be a requirement for schemes to comply with British Standard EN 45011, and for installation to be under a Publically Available Standard now under consultation (PAS 2030) which will define the skills required through National Occupational Standards (NOS).

The Green Deal will be attractive to large organisations, but the processes for subcontracting specialist installation services, in compliance with the code of conduct, still needs to be developed.

A number of local authorities are gearing up to deliver Green Deal schemes themselves, including Birmingham City Council and a cluster in the North East led by Newcastle City Council.

Councils are trusted and in a prime position to accept this responsibility. They would also be in a good position to recover the loan repayments, as they already have a property-based system in place for council tax collection.

The government is currently putting together a system of checks, guarantees and insurance schemes to try and ensure the quality of the work.

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