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Energy Efficiency

Volume 582: debated on Thursday 19 June 2014

Figures released this morning show that nearly 700,000 homes have benefited from direct energy efficiency improvements since the launch of the energy company obligation and green deal programme in January 2013. Nearly a quarter of a million people have been given green deal assessments, which, according to our research, are proving to be popular and useful in stimulating action. Last week we launched the green deal home improvement fund, which is already showing signs of providing a significant boost for the nascent green deal market.

It is the ECO about which I am most concerned. On 16 January, the Minister told the House:

“we have extended the ECO out to 2017 and increased the number of people it will help”.—[Official Report, 16 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 987.]

Will he explain why the impact assessment that his Department published on 5 March states that 440,000 fewer households will be helped to improve their energy efficiency as a result of the changes to the ECO?

The hon. Gentleman is looking at the wrong part of the impact assessment. The assessment relating to the period up to 2017—not 2015— makes it clear that we will be helping more people by extending the time scale of the ECO. We will also be providing long-term certainty for the industry, in contrast to the stop-go starts that we experienced under Labour.

In my constituency, there has been a massive expansion in the number of buy-to-let properties. Landlords charge higher rents and cram large numbers of people into those properties, but do not invest in them. That means that families are trapped into high energy prices. What can we do not just to encourage but perhaps to force those landlords to invest in energy conservation?

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. That is exactly why we took powers in the Energy Act 2010—the first Energy Act of this Parliament—to give every tenant the right to a green deal improvement from 2016, and from 2018 landlords will not be able to refuse it.

One of the best ways of achieving energy efficiency is replacing old and inefficient boilers. In Scotland the green homes cash-back scheme provides some help—albeit limited—with off-grid home fuel and liquefied petroleum gas boilers, but the ECO schemes of the main energy companies still do not cover those boilers. Will the Minister press the companies to reconsider?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. We are keen to do even more for people living off the gas grid, particularly in rural areas. However, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention the significant payments that are available, through the new renewable heat incentive, to help such people manage the transition from expensive heating oil to new affordable technologies such as heat pumps.

There is no doubt that the Government disappointed hundreds of thousands of customers last December when they responded to concern about rising bills by choosing to cut funding for energy efficiency measures. Given that the consultation on the cuts closed last month, and given that even Boris Johnson submitted evidence that they were too severe, will the Minister tell us whether there is any scope for mitigation of the reduction in the ECO targets, so that the 440,000 people who will miss out can be offered some hope of a warmer future?

There are choices to be made. We are pressing ahead with an ambitious roll-out of energy efficiency measures, and targeting the fuel poor in particular through the ECO. As I said earlier, figures released this morning show that nearly 700,000 people have been helped since the launch of the ECO and green deal programme. However, we also have a responsibility to all energy bill payers, and we chose to reduce people’s energy bills. The hon. Gentleman clearly places Labour on the side of higher energy bills for all hard-working families, but I am afraid that, in our judgment, we need to bear down on the cost of living.