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Cost of Not Zero in 2022 (Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit Report)

Volume 827: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit Cost of Not Zero in 2022, published on 30 December 2022; and in particular, the finding that the delay in switching to renewables and improving energy efficiency resulted in some households paying around £1,750 extra on their bills last year.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to deploying renewables and energy efficiency measures. Renewable electricity generation has more than quadrupled since 2010, and will be supported further by the annual contracts for difference scheme. For energy efficiency, the Autumn Statement committed a further £6 billion until 2028, in addition to the £6.6 billion committed over this Parliament. This is alongside the £4 billion expanded ECO4 scheme and the additional £1 billion ECO+ scheme, launching in the spring.

I thank the Minister for his response, but it was not really an answer to my Question. The delay in going to renewables will be made even worse now by the Government handing out gas and oil licences, which completely goes against all common sense. If we rush to renewables, which is possible, we can stimulate jobs and make sure that consumers do not carry on shivering in their homes. So will the Government commit to moving faster on this and perhaps bring the deadline down to 2035, which is long enough away anyway, rather than 2050?

I actually do not fundamentally disagree with the noble Baroness, but we are rushing out renewables deployment. We already have one of the largest deployments of offshore renewables in the world. We even have one of the largest solar capacities in Europe: we have more solar generation than France. I agree that we need to try to go faster. We are doing that—we have increased targets for 2030—but it takes time to roll these out. I disagree with the noble Baroness about there being no requirement for oil and gas; there will be during the transition, and we should get as much of that as possible from domestic sources.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. I personally was very pleased to hear of the establishment of that department, because energy security comes about by net zero, renewables and all those technologies. If that is the case, how come the Government have approved a coal mine—fossil fuels—in Cumbria? That clearly has trashed part of the UK’s reputation globally in terms of the net-zero objective.

I thank the noble Lord for his congratulations and I look forward to working with him. My responsibilities will be pretty similar to what they were before, but I accept the point he makes. I refer him to the answer I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on renewables deployment. I do not want to get into the issue of the coal mine, but, as he well knows, that is not to do with power generation: we are phasing out coal for power generation facilities.

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about the restoration of a department for energy, among other things. I declare an interest as once having been Secretary of State at the Department of Energy. I also congratulate my noble friend on his appointment. Although we know that the long-term decline will be in oil, gas and fossil fuels, which we want, the delay that caused such a violent increase in oil and gas prices last year and the year before was simply because we had failed to manage that decline and to match supply with demand. As supply was outpaced by demand—and the world has an excessive demand for oil and gas—the result was a tenfold increase in gas prices, huge suffering, vast instability, political concern about cuts in real wages and a great deal of damage for millions of people. That is something those pushing for renewables should keep firmly in their minds.

I know that my noble friend speaks with great authority on this matter, given his background, but of course there are many different aspects to the equation. Of course we need to expand supply in renewables, which we are doing, but we also need to reduce demand where we possibly can. That is where our various energy-efficiency campaigns come in. We had a big public relations campaign over the last few months, which has been extremely successful in rolling out energy-efficiency measures.

My Lords, the report makes it clear that the insulation of homes was increasing until 2013, when government grants were cut. This was followed by a 90% decline in rates of insulation, leaving us with the least efficient homes in western Europe, with 12 million in band D or below. The Government’s plans for this Parliament and the next fall well short of what is needed, so will they urgently review these plans to increase insulation rates much faster?

The noble Baroness is right that we need to do more on insulation, but she is wrong about the progress. I will give her the statistics: 47% of homes in England have now reached band C. That is up from 14% in 2010. So we are making very rapid progress in increasing the EPC rating. Of course, there is always more that we can do, and I outlined some of the vast sums of money that we are spending to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.

My Lords, have the Government yet read the World Climate Declaration, which is supported by some 1,400 scientists and professionals worldwide and finds that our climate is changing as it always has and that man is not responsible, so really there is nothing useful we can do about it? Why do the Government want to go on wasting billions of pounds by running with the climate scare lemmings who pretend otherwise?

Well, I am not going to get into a debate with the noble Lord about his statements. Let me perhaps give him another perspective. Even somebody like him, a great British patriot, should surely accept that, even he does not believe in the net-zero target, that it makes sense to develop more renewable sources of electricity in this country, so that we are not dependent on unstable parts of the world for our oil and gas. Despite what I said earlier about needing to expand production as much as we can from the North Sea, it is a declining asset that we will not have in future. Therefore, even in his world, it surely makes sense to develop our energy supply locally in the UK.

My Lords, the Minister has just told your Lordships that we are making rapid progress on energy efficiency. He will be aware that back in September 2020 the Government consulted on raising energy performance in the privately rented sector. If he looks at the government website today, he will see that it says:

“Visit this page again soon to download the outcome to this public feedback.”

How much longer must landlords wait to know exactly what the Government want them to do to improve the energy efficiency of the privately rented sector?

Of course, landlords can voluntarily take action if they wish to improve the performance of their buildings. We are looking at the consultation responses at the moment. However, nobody should pretend that these policy decisions are easy. It is simple and straightforward to just pass a regulation saying that we have to improve the performance, but if the net result of that is a net loss of privately rented accommodation, particularly in poorer parts of the country, there are many people who want that accommodation and we will not have gained anything. So these decisions are not easy, but we are looking at this.

My Lords, the report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit makes the cost of inaction and delay for households abundantly clear. We also know how important it is for the planet. I add my congratulations on the Minister’s role in the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero in the reshuffle yesterday. Can I ask that this new department take its remit seriously by urgently prioritising the relatively cheap and quick options of renewable energy, onshore wind and solar, and making a statement to that effect?

I thank the noble Baroness for her congratulations, but her question implies that we are not doing anything in this space at the moment. Since 2010 the UK has seen a more than 500% increase in the amount of renewable electricity. The UK continues to break records in renewable electricity, which has more than quadrupled since 2010, while low-carbon electricity overall now gives us around 50% of our total generation. Of course we need to do more and do it faster—we are doing that—but let us not try to pretend that we have not made fantastic progress in this area.

My Lords, my noble friend said the issue of solar power is of great importance. While we are in favour of his policy in general, many people, in rural areas in particular, are deeply concerned about the way in which good agricultural land is apparently now vulnerable to massive solar farms. This destroys our countryside and is quite unnecessary. Does my noble friend not agree?

I do not agree with the noble Lord, actually. Only a relatively small—in fact, tiny—proportion of land is taken up with solar power generation, but of course we always have to make sure we get the balance right. We need agricultural land, but we also need more solar generation.

My Lords, I declare my interests. Given the Minister’s compelling argument for increasing home-grown renewable energy, can he update the House on how the Government’s consultations on getting a sensible planning regime for increasing onshore wind are progressing?

We already have considerable quantities of onshore wind, but I know the noble Baroness’s commitment to seeing that rolled out even further. As she will be aware, onshore wind will be eligible for contracts for difference in the next allocation round commencing in March, and we will consult shortly on developing local partnerships for a number of supportive communities that wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for the benefits that can then flow to those communities.