Not too late to insulate homes this winter, says Lord Deben | Energy

Tackling the cost of living crisis requires insulating British homes as a matter of urgency and deploying renewable energy generation faster, the chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has said.

Lord Deben, a Conservative former environment secretary, said the measures needed to bring down energy bills were the same as those needed to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

He said it was not too late to start insulating homes for the winter, and that measures to do so could attract cross-party support.

“What we have to do for net zero is what we have to do for the cost of living crisis,” he said in an interview. “And when people say we can’t afford net zero, we frankly can’t afford not to go for net zero. That’s where the Climate Change Committee has been so critical of the government, because we ought to have a major policy for improving people’s homes.”

He said the government should bring forward an insulation plan quickly. “It’s never too late to do anything,” he said. “Local authorities have got programmes already under way, they can extend those programmes pretty rapidly if they had the money to do so. Obviously it would be better if they had started three months ago or six months ago, but the fact is they could do a lot.”

Despite repeated calls from MPs, local government, industry and energy experts, the government has not yet come forward with plans for a major new insulation strategy. There has been no nationwide programme to help people on average incomes to insulate their homes since the scrapping of the botched green homes grant last year.

In his mini-budget, the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, extended the current scheme by which energy companies subsidise energy efficiency measures for some of the poorest households, but he refused to go further. He promised changes to planning regulations that at present in effect ban onshore windfarms in England, which may open the way to new turbines.

Deben said soaring energy bills were at the heart of the UK’s economic crisis. “The problem is, how do you lower the cost of energy? There are two ways to do it: one is you have more renewable energy, because that’s the cheapest form of energy, and the second way is that you enable people to use less energy by having energy efficiency. They are quite clear and simple and they can both be done,” he said.

The private sector could also be involved in financing insulation schemes, he suggested. “There is a wonderful opportunity, and there is a great deal of private-sector money in there, if the government creates a scheme.”

Deben called for ministers to do more to help people make low-carbon choices, saying people approaching plumbers or heating engineers were often sold boilers instead of heat pumps. “I’m very keen on proper government policy so that somebody can ring up and say: ‘Look, I’ve got a three-bedroom house, I want to do the right thing. Instead of buying a new gas boiler, where do I go to get the information?’ And there should be very direct help.”

New homes are still being built with gas boilers, without renewable energy and to low standards, and will have to be expensively retrofitted in the future to meet the 2050 net zero target. Deben contrasted this with the government’s success in stimulating the car industry to produce electric vehicles by setting a deadline of 2030 for the last sales of new petrol or diesel cars.

“There’s a good example of government doing the right thing, setting a target, saying exactly what it’s going to be,” he said. “If only they’d done that with the housebuilding industry. We’re still waiting for the future homes standards and we shall have to look very carefully when they properly come out.”

Deben said he was not opposed to fracking, as the CCC does not take a view on the technology, but he said it would not ease gas prices for consumers.

“We’ve never been opposed to fracking, we’ve always said fracking is perfectly acceptable as long as you meet the environmental standards we have set,” he said. “That does not mean that it’s going to be a cheap thing to do, and you’re still going to sell the gas at the market price. And it also takes time. You can’t argue that it’s going to lower the price.”

He defended government plans to extract as much as possible from existing oil and gas fields in the North Sea. “There is a perfectly good argument to get the most out of the North Sea as a matter of dealing with the Ukraine situation. That’s perfectly reasonable. [But] that doesn’t mean you should do new, huge things.”

He said ministers should be clear that expanding North Sea drilling or fracking would not cut prices. “Don’t, for goodness sake, pretend to people that it will lower their bills, because it won’t.”

The CCC concluded in February that it was not within its remit to advise the government against issuing new licences to open up more gas fields in the North Sea. But the independent advisory committee did say new licences would take years to produce gas, would not reduce energy prices and could help to push the world closer to climate breakdown.

Deben, who was asked this summer by the government to extend his term as CCC chair until next June, said the perception that more gas is needed in the UK was wrong.

“The problem at the moment is that people just see this as an unending situation of increasing bills, and then you get some people who are foolish enough to say that because gas is so expensive, we ought to have more gas. As if the gas we produce ourselves is going to be any different from the world price of gas. It doesn’t change any of the arguments about fracking, or anything else, actually.”

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