The impending winter fuel crisis must be solved by helping households save energy, not by fracking and sourcing new gas fields, experts have urged the new prime minister.
UK gas reserves are “too small” to curb consumer bills and Liz Truss is being encouraged to drive forward efforts to improve insulation for households and provide advice to the public on low or no-cost ways to save energy.
A letter to the new prime minister asks her to back cheap onshore wind and solar farms, which she criticized in her leadership campaign, as well as electric heat pumps, to reduce the UK’s reliance on natural gas.
Its authors, Climate Change Committee (CCC) chairman Lord Deben and Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), say addressing the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels is the best way out of the energy and climate crises.
“By doubling down on efforts to end our dependence on gas, we can lower consumer energy costs and make meaningful contributions towards combatting climate change,” they say.
They write that the UK is facing a “set of grim records” of high energy prices, extreme summer temperatures and surging inflation, due to climate change and economic challenges which threaten three-quarters of households with fuel poverty.
Their letter comes at a time when a new survey shows more than three-quarters of British people think the government should use new wind and solar farms to reduce energy bills.
Some 77% of the 6,114 people polled by Survation for industry body RenewableUK backed the use of wind and solar farms – which generate electricity much more cheaply than currently high-priced gas – to tackle the bill crisis.
That includes more than four-fifths (82%) of those planning to vote Conservative in the next election and 84% who voted Tory in 2019, despite Ms Truss’s solar farms’ opposition.
RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail said the findings were a “wake-up call to every politician, including the new Prime Minister, that the overwhelming majority of people want to see new investment in renewables and are happy to see new wind and solar farms built in their local area to drive energy bills down.”
He added: “At a time when we need to shift from expensive gas to low-cost renewables as rapidly as possible, most people agree that if local communities support having a wind farm nearby, the government shouldn’t stand in their way.”
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The CCC and NIC chairmen warn gas is expected to stay expensive until 2027, with 90% of the recent increase in the energy price cap driven by gas price rises.
But while Ms Truss has signaled her support for new offshore gas fields and fracking in the UK, the two senior advisers say the UK cannot address the crisis solely by increasing production of natural gas.
“Greater domestic production of fossil fuels may improve energy security, particularly this winter, but our gas reserves – offshore or from shale – are too small to meaningfully impact the prices faced by UK consumers,” they say.
“Energy security and reducing the UK’s exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices requires strong policies that reduce energy waste across the economy and boost domestic production of secure low carbon energy.”
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The RenewableUK survey also had a strong message for Ms Truss and her fracking plans – only 34% of overall respondents supported it as well as 51% of those who voted Tory.
The poll also highlighted high levels of support from people across the country for having a renewable project in their area, with 76% of those quizzed saying they would back a green scheme nearby – including 81% of Tory voters.
Meeting the UK’s legal target to cut climate emissions to zero overall – known as net-zero – by 2050 through measures such as energy efficiency and renewables can help secure the UK’s energy sovereignty and protect it from fossil fuel prices, Lord Deben and Sir John say.
But they warn 15 million homes in the UK are in need of some kind of energy efficiency improvements, and there is a lack of credible long-lasting policies to deliver it.
The number of insulation measures installed with government support has tumbled from 2.3 million in 2012 to just 93,500 in 2021.
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They urge Ms Truss and her administration to develop new policies that will ensure all homeowners increase their home’s energy efficiency to a decent standard by 2035, and that all rental properties are improved to the standard of energy performance certificate (EPC) C by 2028.
Government action is also needed to drive forward low carbon heating systems, such as electric heat pumps, including tackling the relatively higher price of electricity than gas, they say.
They further warn slow progress on improving the energy efficiency of hospitals, schools and other public buildings mean they face “extraordinary bills this winter”, with NHS England facing a rise in energy costs from £600 million to £2 billion this year.