9 November 2021

Why are taxpayers the only ones risking their capital?

Over the last eleven years, the Government can claim some great green successes, such as the incredible expansion of offshore wind but their strategy to meet net zero has become too based on the public risking their capital and not the Government risking theirs.

Nothing highlights this more than the Government’s flawed position on retrofitting and onshore renewable energy. If they truly believe that, as Boris told the world at COP26, ‘we cannot and will not succeed by government spending alone’, we must continue ‘a green industrial revolution, that is already creating millions of high wage and high skill jobs in power’ and ‘begin the fightback against climate change’, then surely, it’s time for him to risk some of his Government’s political capital?

Onshore renewable energy

21% of the UKs carbon emissions come from energy and to give the Government some credit, on March 6 2015, Matt Hancock, minister of State for Energy said that by 2020, onshore wind would increase from seven percent of UK energy to ten percent. It currently stands at eleven percent.

However, this is where the congratulations must end because the debate had in 2015 has not improved or been updated. Hancock brought up concerns over wind turbine noise, negative impact on house prices and health, particularly amplitude modulation, their visual impact on national scenery and cost, hence the removal of subsidy.

  •  At 0.3 miles, turbines are quieter than a fridge.
  • No evidence shows turbines have a definite impact on prices, in some area’s prices have increased and other factors such as location play a far greater role.
  • A refresh of the Scottish Government’s ‘Onshore wind - policy statement’ notes that the EU’s ETSU-R-97, which assesses noise from windfarms, decided amplitude modulation was not in need of inclusion. And that ClimateXExchange review of data showed no correlation between the noise produced by wind farms and ill health.
  • The Governments own Public Attitude Tracker shows that support for onshore wind is at 70% and solar 84%, so visual impact is much less of a concern.
  • Onshore renewables now do not need subsidy, as the UK’s largest solar farm in Faversham has proved

The final concern Hancock brought up was planning but with support for onshore so high and energy needs so great, risking this political capital is far less than asking a homeowner to stump up more than £10,000 for a heat pump.

The Government needs to think again. If delivering Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP), the Government would need to offer some political capital but for projects brought forward by energy companies in individual councils, the Government could either mandate renewables in local plans or provide funding for all local authorities to have a referendum on whether local people want onshore renewables, which is the only planning barrier stopping them coming forward.

After the recent announcements that electricity prices are about to spiral due to our energy insecurity, it seems preposterous that the Government would not risk a tiny bit of political capital to enable these proven, renewable technologies.

Retrofitting

15% of the UKs carbon emissions are from residential housing and with 17million homes achieving an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of C and below, 7 million homes without cavity walls and 1.2 million homes in conservation areas, the Government has a big job to retrofit the UK’s least energy efficient homes.

Yet it could make a huge start without taxpayer subsidy by producing a National Retrofit Planning Framework (NRPF) which, instead of forcing people down the costly, uncertain planning process, could grant permitted development rights on the most efficient solutions, such as external wall insulation, triple glazing and new roofs.

It is already considering a presentation bill called ‘Street Votes’, which could do just this by allowing local people to vote on design and density rules, such as new energy efficient roofs and give individual homeowners planning permission.

Warmer homes would use less energy, reduce costs on the NHS, make heat pumps more attractive and would be led by taxpayers through the market.

The political capital cost to the Government would be short term because although those who care about conservation housing and listed buildings would express concern, heritage retrofitting experts already have appropriate retrofitting solutions and so could guide the Government in a sensitive direction, which would also end up helping to preserve our most loved buildings for many generations to come.

Time to act is now

The Government are putting immense pressure on the taxpayer to deliver their agenda and strategy. They are asking us all to dip into our pockets and use our capital to support a market led approach, yet they are not yet stepping up to the plate to stake their own capital. They must unlock onshore renewable energy and retrofitting the least energy efficient homes.

With the Prime Minister telling the world that ‘now is the time’ to push the Paris Agreement ‘lifeboat for humanity into the water’, the question to ask is, will we be joining him on that lifeboat? Or is he leaving us on the sinking ship?