Penalties for homeowners sticking with gas is no ‘rip out your boiler’ plan, insists minister
Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said the government’s new green power strategy was not a “rip out your boiler” plan, despite measures to encourage households to move away from gas.
The plan by Rishi Sunak’s government confirms measures aimed at making it cheaper to buy and run a heat pump rather than a traditional gas boiler.
And the strategy also confirms that the government wants to “rebalance” gas and electricty costs – which would cut the cost of electricity at the expense of gas.
But Mr Shapps insisted “we’re not forcing anyone to remove their gas boilers”, saying the government expected homes will move from gas to cleaner energy “over the next decade or two”.
The energy secretary told Sky News: “We all know that electricity can be a big way to decarbonise, but we also know these are big changes. So this is not a sort of rip-out-your-boiler moment. This is a transition over a period of time to get to homes which are heated in a different way and also insulated much better.”
The government proposed to move existing “green levies” from electricity prices over to gas prices so as not to penalise those using electricity, which is less carbon-polluting than gas. The levies make up around £131 on average annual electricity bills and only around £34 on gas bills.
The government also extended a scheme offering £5,000 grants towards heat pump insulation to 2028 instead of its previous 2025 cut-off.
Mr Shapps admitted “we’re in the low numbers still” of heat pumps, with only around 42,000 installed last year and “there are technical issues that people are having to deal with in order to meet the switchover”.
The minister admitted he does not yet have a heat pump, but said workers will come to survey his house this month. “Sort of living the dream as it were, or I’m hoping to,” he told GB News.
The green energy plan unveiled by Mr Shapps and chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday to “power up Britain” fleshed out more details of its existing £20bn investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, and £160m for infrastructure to help expand offshore wind.
However, the package was criticised by opposition parties and environmental campaigners as little more than a “half-baked” rehash of existing plans.
Labour claimed it amounted to “reheated policy and no new investment”, accusing the chancellor of “waving the white flag in the global race for green jobs”.
Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said: “Other countries are matching the ambition of the US, UK business says we must, but Tory dogma says no,” the MP said. “Britain can’t afford a government that will make us losers in this race.”
Dr Paul Balcombe, senior lecturer in renewable energy at Queen Mary University of London, said the government’s target of insulating 300,000 out of 20 million homes “is clearly insufficient when we have such a poorly insulated housing stock”.
Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth (FoE), warned: “These policies [are] looking dangerously lacklustre and lacking on climate action.”
Climate scientists have also warned that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is yet to be proved and encourages continued fossil fuel exploitation – urging the Sunak government to stop licensing new oil and gas developments.
Mr Shapps admitted that “we’re not there yet” on carbon capture technology, but said: “We probably have the ability to store billions if not trillions of pounds worth of other people’s carbon in those locations.”
When challenged over his use of the word “probably”, the cabinet minister told GB News: “We know that you can actually do this. It’s technically possible to do. Yes, there are lots of practical implications of doing it.”
The government also made clear it would not stopping the development of the Rosebank oil and gas field north of the Shetland Islands. Asked by Labour’s Richard Burgon to halt the project, climate change minister Graham Stuart said it would be “economic madness”.
The Tory minister added: “On what planet would any rational and reasonable constituency MP want to propose that as a proposal, unless they have some strange affinity with somewhere like Russia?”
It came as Cop26 president Alok Sharma and Chris Skidmore – the Tory former minister who conducted a review into how the UK can reach net zero by 2050 – called on ministers to accelerate their response to the Joe Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act.
The US president’s huge £348bn package of tax credits and other subsidies for green technology is an attempt to get the American economy ready to tackle climate change.
However, Mr Hunt said the government would not offer a “full national response” to rival US and EU strategies until the autumn. Writing in The Times, Mr Hunt accused Mr Biden of leading a “distortive” global subsidy race, arguing that the long-term solution to the threat of protectionism was “not subsidy but security”.
Mr Sharma told the Commons: “The reality is the US, the EU and other nations are speeding up and attracting billions and billions right now of private sector investment.
“Why are we going to wait until the autumn to get a response to that? Don’t we need to speed that up and have a response now in terms of measures to deal with the Inflation Reduction Act and other measures from other nations?”
The row comes as the government rejected a call to end the export of British plastic waste within the next four years. A review of the UK’s net zero plans, carried out by Mr Skidmore, the senior Tory MP recommended that the government move to end the export of UK plastic waste by 2027. But in its response to the review ministers rejected the 2027 target.