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Almost one million rural households in England and Wales could see their heating bills soar if new government proposals go ahead, it is argued.
The claim was made by OFTEC – the trade association for oil heating – following plans outlined in the government's recently released ‘Clean Growth Strategy’.
See also: Rural communities fear fuel poverty
The strategy recommends switching 850,000 rural households currently heated by oil to electrically driven heat pumps in a bid to reduce carbon emissions from domestic heating.
OFTEC argues that heat pumps can cost up to 88% more to run than high efficiency oil boilers.
It says this could leave rural consumers facing a rise in their heating bills of up to £750 per year – resulting in higher levels of fuel poverty.
OFTEC says the proposals could also see an increase in the number of elderly and vulnerable people who die each winter because they can’t afford to keep warm.
Figures just released show there were an estimated 34,300 excess winter deaths last winter (2016/17), up 39.5% on the previous year.
OFTEC chief executive Paul Rose described the government's proposals as misguided.
“Switching off-grid homes that currently rely on oil to heat pumps, which are expensive to install and run, would spell economic disaster for many,” he said.
“This situation cannot be allowed to happen.”
Instead of electrically driven heat pumps, OFTEC argues that the government should support a boiler replacement programme to introduce more efficient heating systems.
It estimates that there are 400,000 older domestic boilers being used across England and Wales. Mandated heating controls could further reduce energy use, says OFTEC.
Mr Rose said: “Our strategy is not about prolonging the life of oil heating for the benefit of our industry – there is far more at stake here.
“Consumers need affordable and practical alternatives to government’s current plans which are too expensive and could lead to catastrophic social harm, particularly for low income families.”
Liquefied petroleum gas supplier Calor, which works in partnership with the Rural Services Network, has already developed a renewable fuel.
It can be used in existing LPG equipment – the same equipment frequently used by rural households who aren't on mains gas.
With parent company SHV Energy, Calor has invested in developing and bringing to market fully renewable bioLPG in early 2018
Calor head of strategy and corporate affairs Paul Blacklock said the company welcomed the government’s commitment to phase out the use of oil boilers in off-grid premises.
The rural deployment of LPG, bioLPG and liquefied natural gas and biomethane would help the government achieve its decarbonisation targets, said Mr Blacklock.
Such these fuels produced far less carbon and were cost competitive with oil.
Oil-based energy companies are also developing their own low-carbon bio-liquid fuels.
Capable of being run in existing high efficiency oil boilers following a relatively simple and low cost modification, the new fuel is expected to be available within five years.
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