Both the Coalition and the Cameron government rather quickly lost their appetites for a coherent and enthusiastic energy policy that could address high costs and the poor energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock. The decision to completely scrap the Department for Energy and Climate Change suggests that Theresa May’s government is as unlikely as its immediate predecessors to tackle such matters. Many feel they ought to get on and publish the long overdue Bonfield Review which offers a crumb of comfort for those concerned about the confused state of government energy policy.
The Bonfield Review was commissioned to examine how home energy efficiency and renewable measures can encourage investment and reach the optimum number of households. It was originally due to be published, by the now defunct Department for Energy and Climate Change, in April of this year. We know this because the review Chairman, Peter Bonfield, told us. He said it couldn’t be published in April because of the local elections but should be released immediately afterwards so as not to clash with the build-up to the EU referendum. Six months later, there’s still no sign of the review. There have been some near misses. Apparently a room was booked and invitations dispatched for a July launch only for the event to be cancelled and rescheduled for a date in August which once more failed to materialise. All of this adds to a sense of disillusionment with energy policy and the feeling that, as far as Theresa May’s administration is concerned, ‘Home Energy Policy’ and ‘Carbon Emissions’ have failed to make it onto the government’s list of priorities.
We have come a long way from the “greenest ever” government boasts to a situation where being ‘green’ is seen as cost prohibitive and the idea of a fuel poverty strategy sounds like the past rather than the future. This is partly due to the clumsy construction of the ‘Green Deal’ and the way the government scrapped it’s once flagship policy. With that unerring timing that has become a hallmark of Conservative energy policy, the government managed to scrap it on the very month that it reached its highest ever level of market performance. The complex and expensive Green Deal had many problems but since its demise we’ve been left without any long term policy to address household energy demands or incentivise homeowners to invest in green measures. A recent estimate from the Association for the Conservation of Energy shows that over the past six years there has been a steady decline in households receiving energy support and that by the end of this parliament it will have fallen by a staggering 76%.
To add insult to injury, the years of chopping and changing have created uncertainty and instability in the UK’s energy efficiency markets and renewables sector. The collapse of the Green Deal and the government decision to renege on the zero carbon commitment for all new homes have impacted on infrastructure investment, job opportunities and energy security. The result is an enormous missed opportunity in terms of meeting carbon targets and fuel poverty assistance but also in previous ambitions for growing the green economy.
So far the government seems to have got into a real mess in its stop/go deal with the Chinese over Hinckley Point which is likely to result in very high cost nuclear energy at the taxpayer’s expense and a Shale gas strategy which looks like putting all our eggs in one basket and buying off communities, one project at a time. This is unlikely to significantly help on carbon emissions and will do little to tackle fuel poverty. We need a commitment to a radical and diversified energy policy which includes a mixture of investment incentives, loan schemes, reforms to property law and clear communication with homeowners. The Bonfield Review promised to be the catalyst for delivering such initiatives. It’s high time the Government published it before they embark on any more expensive and confusing energy policy U-turns.