'Woefully inadequate': MPs slam Government's energy efficiency plans after Green Homes Grant fiasco

The UK will miss its long-term, legally binding climate targets unless the Government addresses energy efficiency in homes as a priority, MPs are warning.

Households are responsible for an estimated 20% of the UK’s total climate emissions - largely due to fossil fuel heating and energy inefficiencies 

Households are responsible for an estimated 20% of the UK’s total climate emissions - largely due to fossil fuel heating and energy inefficiencies 

In a new report published today (22 March), MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) are warning that the UK Government has underestimated the costs of decarbonising existing UK homes by 2050 – its net-zero deadline – by at least £35bn. In the worst-case scenario, the costs of retrofitting could be £65bn higher than current forecasts.

The report both criticises the Government’s delivery the Green Homes Grant itself and its decision not to make the scheme part of a broader and longer-term approach. On the former, Ministers recently announced that some £1.5bn of the scheme’s initially earmarked £2bn is being withdrawn, citing a shortage of certified suppliers to deliver the works.

Many green groups had hoped that Chancellor Rishi Sunak would use this month’s Budget speech to re-allocate the £1.5bn and to announce a replacement scheme, but this did not happen. The most recent Government figures on the Green Homes Grant show that just £125m of vouchers have been issued to date – just 8% of the amount originally promised.

With the scaling-back of the Grant, the EAC claims, the Government has allocated around £4bn of the £9.2bn for energy efficiency promised in the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 general election. The report recommends that existing schemes have their funding “front-loaded and rolled out without delay”. It also calls for reduced VAT rates for renovations – both in terms of labour and materials.

Beyond funding, the report slams the Government’s approach to regulating and measuring domestic energy efficiency. It outlines evidence that social housing and rented properties are typically less energy efficient than homes owned outright by several EPC grades. It goes on to call the EPC itself outdated and urges Ministers to develop a methodology that places more onus on carbon. Building Renovation Passports, as trialled in markets like the EU, are posed as a potential replacement.

With housing accounting for one-fifth of the UK’s domestic annual emissions, and with more than 80% of buildings standing today set to still be standing in 2050, these failures could jeopardise climate progress overall, the EAC believes.

The EAC is calling on Ministers to enact the report’s recommendations through the forthcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy. edie understands that the policy framework, originally due last autumn, is now likely to be published soon after Easter.

“Making 19 million homes ready for net-zero Britain by 2050 is an enormous challenge that the Government appears to have not yet grasped,” EAC chairman Philip Dunne MP said.

“In the next 29 years, the Government must improve energy efficiency upgrades and roll out low carbon heating measures: a material start must be made now….Realism needs to be injected into the Government. A much better understanding of cost, pace, scale and feasibility of skills development is desperately needed for net-zero Britain.

Green economy reaction

As expected, the EAC’s report has drawn much praise from the groups that expressed disappointment at cuts to the Green Homes Grant.

Green Alliance’s head of politics Chris Venables said: “The hugely popular Green Homes Grant has the potential to be a massive climate-friendly job creation scheme at a crucial moment in the UK’s economic recovery. MPs joining the chorus of voices cheering on this scheme piles even more pressure on the government to support small businesses chomping at the bit to upgrade our leaky homes.

Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) analyst Jess Ralston added: “Despite government talking a good game on net-zero, it is clear this is failing to manifest into action to cut carbon from our homes. Rushed policies that are chopped and changed seemingly at random risk undermining public enthusiasm for fixing up our leaky homes, damage that could harm future schemes for years to come.

“The benefits of getting this right are crystal clear; hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs, lower bills, less carbon and more comfortable homes. The only barrier to climate-proofing our homes is government inaction, with every year of delay only making the problem worse.

“There is no way of getting to net-zero without tackling emissions from homes. With a recent litany of policy decisions undermining the UK’s credibility on climate ahead of this year’s crucial COP26 summit, it would be a mistake to add another to the list.”

The recent “litany” referred to by Ralston includes further delays to the Environment Bill, potential backtracking on sustainable farming and plastic waste exports, and, of course, the ever-controversial coking coal mine in Cumbria.

The Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) told edie that It supports the EAC’s recommendations in full. “This timely report rightly raises the issue of the current piecemeal government policy towards retrofitting existing buildings that has consistently underestimated the difficulty of the task at hand,” ADE chief strategic advisor Dr Joanne Wade said.

The UK Green Buildings Council’s chief executive Julie Hirigoyen added: “Unfortunately the findings of this inquiry come as little surprise. The publication of this report comes amidst ongoing uncertainty about the future of the Green Homes Grant scheme, which is hugely destabilizing for businesses that are trying to plan around it and consumers wishing to access it. It also comes shortly after a Budget in which energy efficiency was notable only for its absence.

“Government needs to act on the Committee’s recommendations, grasping the nettle to deliver a comprehensive, properly funded, long-term home energy retrofit programme – including the £9.2bn package of energy efficiency measures promised in the Conservative manifesto.”

 Sarah George



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