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Conservative energy policy is a damp squib for renewables

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 24 March 2010 at 9:30 am

Twelve actions "to put our energy system back on its feet" are at the heart of the long awaited Conservative energy policy which was finally launched last Friday. Of them, three relate directly to domestic renewable energy and energy efficiency, but it's difficult to see that they add much new to the picture.

Action eight is to promote renewable energy.  The point they make about "taking the poison out of many of the planning battles surrounding onshore wind" by promoting community ownership of appropriately sited (who decides?) wind farms, so that communities see a benefit, and get a discounted electricity is a good one. It's been proved to work in Denmark, where community partnership is the norm.

It's also good news to know that the Tory's are committed to feed-in tariffs (elsewhere they have committed to including early adopters of microgeneration in the scheme). But what about the Renewable Heat Incentive? This is an ambitious plan, which attempts to deal with the biggest user of energy, heat, but there is no mention of their intentions on heat other than giving councils the power to identify areas suitable for district heating schemes. The Renewable Heat Incentive proposals already go much further than that, by incentivising them to get on and install district heating.

The first eight actions look at the supply of energy. Action nine rightly addresses the demand. Yet its ideas don't exactly sound revolutionary. It brings forward the deadline for a full roll-out of smart meters to the end of 2016 for "most" homes and businesses. I'm pleased to see a clause that promises to "enshrine the principle that smart meter data belongs to the consumer, not the utility", as one of the potential dangers of the roll-out is that energy companies will benefit without empowering consumers.

Action 10 is to reduce demand by offering every household a Green Deal on energy efficiency. A Conservative government would offer every household in Britain a Green Deal of up to £6,500 worth of energy efficiency improvements at no upfront cost, with a higher limit for hard-to-treat homes. This consists of an independent assessment, improvements carried out by a kite-marked installer, and the cost repaid from the resulting energy savings, paid through energy bills. It would be delivered by "the widest possible range of private, public and voluntary sector organisations".

I welcome the pledge to open up the schemes so they are no longer "closed shops under the control of the big energy suppliers", but I'm still struggling to see much difference between these Tory proposals and the Goverment's recent proposals outlined in Warm Homes; Greener Homes. So nothing to get particularly excited about. I'd put "could do better" on the end of term report.

Photo by Andrew Parsons

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