Labour makes efficiency central pillar of energy policy

Labour has released its energy efficiency manifesto ahead of next year's General Election, detailing six policies it would enact to create 'a Britain of warm homes and warm hearts'.

The plan, entitled ‘An end to cold homes: One Nation Labour’s plans for energy efficiency’, lays out the current problems with British buildings’ energy use, and explains the party’s solutions.

The green paper was first mooted at the September Labour party conference, when Ed Miliband pledged to make energy efficiency a ‘national infrastructure priority’.

Writing in the foreword, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Caroline Flint said: “Our country needs more than warm words. It needs a plan for warm homes. A plan which creates new jobs and opportunities for apprentices. A plan which moves towards a fairer Britain, where all homes can reach a standard of comfort, and where those with the least do not pay ever-rising sums to heat their homes.”

The problem

Owing to the age of many UK properties – nearly 60% are more than 50 years old and, of this, 80% will still be standing by 2050 – Britain’s household energy efficiency is among the worst anywhere in Europe.

These houses are often poorly insulated and, as a result, the average household’s annual energy bill is now more than £1,300 as energy bills have risen by 21% in the last four years.

Labour says this increase is “twice as fast as inflation, four times faster than wages and faster than almost anywhere else in the developed world.”

Consequently the number of households in fuel poverty is forecast to increase to 2.33 million – a household is considered to be in fuel poverty if they are required to spend more than 10% of their income to keep their home to a satisfactory standard.

In the commercial sphere, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimates that energy efficiency measures could save businesses £1.6bn. However Labour says poor awareness, misaligned incentives between landlords and office bill payers and lack of financing means that energy efficiency is rarely optimised.

Labour’s policy solutions

1. Provide half a million personalised home energy reports a year, detailing how households could save money on their energy bills through insulation and energy efficiency.

2. Free energy efficient improvements for 200,000 households in or at risk of fuel poverty a year, with an ambition to upgrade all such homes and end the scandal of cold homes within 15 years, saving the average household over £270 a year.

3. Interest free loans to cover the costs of energy efficiency improvements for up to one million households during the next Parliament.

4. A new target to upgrade properties in the private rented sector to a minimum of an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) C by 2027.

5. Energy efficiency designated as a national infrastructure priority under Labour’s proposed National Infrastructure Commission.

6. Streamlined regulations and a long-term strategy to support investment in energy efficiency in non-domestic buildings.

Green Deal failings

The ‘Green Paper’ also attacked the coalition’s flagship energy efficiency policy, the Green Deal, stating that its “disappointing uptake” was down to its cost: “Over 355,000 households have had Green Deal assessments. However, fewer than 4,000 of these have gone on to take out a Green Deal, suggesting that approximately 99% of people decided it was not an attractive financial proposition. We believe the main reason the level of take-up of the Green Deal has been so low is because the current interest rate is too high.”

The party pledged to reduced interest rates to 0%.

Industry reaction

The UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) praised Labour for “recognising that energy efficiency is key to tackling rising household energy bills and ending fuel poverty, as well meeting the UK’s carbon targets.”

UKGBC chief executive Paul King said: “Under Labour’s plans, energy efficiency would no longer be the Cinderella of energy policy. Labour has said very clearly that energy efficiency is the key to driving down bills, improving energy security and tackling carbon emissions. This is a well-intentioned plan that recognises the importance of a long-term, multi-Parliament approach, designed to give industry the confidence it needs to invest.

“However, the challenge still remains for Labour – and for all political parties – to take the radical steps necessary to fully meet the scale of the problem. We need to retrofit one million homes a year, for a generation, to make all 26 million UK households fit for the future. Designating energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority is hugely welcome. That needs to be backed up with capital investment from Government and fiscal incentives to truly embed energy efficiency in the housing market.”

Brad Allen

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