Government amends Energy Bill following pressure from own Minister

The Government has made crucial last-minute amends to its much-lauded Energy Bill. There has been growing concern from rural MPs over recent months that the Bill unfairly discriminates against rural communities, especially with regards to what has been labelled as “the boiler ban”.

Under the original plans, by 2026, anyone living in an off-gas grid property who wanted to replace the boiler would have to do so with a heat pump. Many rural MPs have spoken out against this approach, saying it is unfair that such rules should be imposed on the very communities who do not have the option of on-grid energy, who tend to have older properties and are often at the lower end of the income scale.  Furthermore, as early adopters of the technology they would face hefty purchase and installation costs.  One of the government’s own MPs, George Eustice (Con, Camborne and Redruth) likened the boiler ban to a rural ULEZ.

Mr Eustice MP had previously tabled his own amends to the Energy Bill but last week as it was presented again, almost identical amends were introduced by his own party.

Under Secretary of State for Nuclear and Networks, Andrew Bowie, acknowledged Mr Eustice’s work as he introduced the amends to the House:

“I turn to Government new clause 63, amendment 8 and new clauses 40 and 50 on renewable liquid heating fuel. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) for his work and amendments relating to renewable liquid fuels for low-carbon heating. His constructive work with the Government has been incredibly helpful and positive. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who has been championing the use of renewable liquid fuels for low-carbon heating for many years.

As the recent biomass strategy made clear, such fuels will have a critical role to play in decarbonising our economy. We recognise that they have the potential to play an important role in decarbonising heat, especially as not all off-grid properties will be suitable for electrification. We will explore the potential of these fuels for heat by issuing a consultation within 12 months. We want to take the powers now to support the use of these fuels in heat in the future, should they be needed. That is why we tabled Government new clause 63, taking powers to impose obligations on heating fuel suppliers to increase the supply of renewable liquid heating fuels.”

The amendments were passed without objection with notable support coming from Tonia Antoniazzi (Labour MP, Gower):

“We all want to cut emissions and tackle climate change, but people continue to suffer from the cost of living crisis. It is important that the cost of transitioning to lower carbon alternatives is not left to individuals to shoulder on their own.

The Government propose phasing out the use of high-carbon fossil fuel heating from the gas grid by banning the installation of new gas-fuelled boilers from 2026, and they advocate the alternative of heat pumps. While heat pumps have an important role to play in the decarbonisation of home heating, a heat pump only approach risks unfairly burdening off-grid rural homeowners with expensive installation costs. My constituents are rightly concerned at the prospect of being made to install very costly alternative heating systems that are not fit for purpose.

Some 11 million people live in rural areas across the UK, with 15% in off-grid homes. The cost of installing a low-carbon heat pump is around four times more expensive than a replacement boiler. What is more, while a heat pump can technically be installed in all homes across the UK, and it should be in new build housing, in certain property types, such as those in rural and coastal communities like Gower, they will not run efficiently and risk increasing energy bills to unnecessarily high levels for homeowners, above those they currently pay. In some cases, that could increase the overall cost of installation to £25,000, according to the Government’s own calculator.

I welcome the fact that the Government are consulting on increasing the grants available for heat pumps in certain homes, as announced last week. However, for some, those increased grants will not go far enough in making the cost of heat pump installation workable. My constituents in Gower, many of whom are off-grid homeowners, want to play their part in reducing emissions. In fact, the majority of people who came to my summer surgeries, while concerned about the cost, wanted to do their bit to reduce carbon emissions.

As has been said in the Chamber today, renewable liquid fuels, such as renewable diesel made from hydrotreated vegetable oil, offer a cheaper alternative. They can reduce net carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions from source to end user by up to 90%. At a small cost, existing off-grid boilers can be modified to run renewable liquid fuels, such as HVO, saving the homeowner the extortionate cost of a heat pump replacement.

However, renewable liquid fuels are more expensive than their high-carbon competitor, kerosene. In order to aid swift uptake, the Energy Bill must enable the use of renewable liquid fuels, as well as introducing measures to explore reducing their cost and making them more accessible, such as a renewable liquid heating fuel obligation, mirroring what already exists in transport and aviation. That would help my constituents transition to lower-carbon alternatives and incentivise faster and wider transition, more broadly, among off-grid households. There is some consensus across the House on those measures. An effective transition to cleaner energy must ensure that rural off-grid communities, such as mine in Gower, are not left with an expensive cost burden as we transition to net zero.

To conclude, in light of the consultation on renewable liquid fuels, the Government must review their oil boiler ban. The Minister must ensure that the consultation is expedited so that all our off-grid constituents can benefit before he leaves Government.”

The Bill is now in its final stages before it receives Royal Assent.


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