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The Government must listen to councillors’ fears over the financial cost of net zero

The Government must listen to councillors’ fears over the financial cost of net zero

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OFTEC

5 min read Partner content

The data is clear - rural households need to be given a choice on how they decarbonise.

New polling by YouGov for OFTEC, has revealed that 83% of rural councillors want their constituents to have a real choice about how they decarbonise their home heating, and just under three quarters have concerns about the financial impact net zero will have on households. This comes as over 8,000 local councillors prepare to face the polls in the May local elections, with two thirds of these taking place in rural district councils.

The survey found that concern is widespread, with councillors of all stripes in election battlegrounds such as Yorkshire and Humber saying that rural households must be given a choice; 95% in the North East and 92% in the South West agreed.

Under current government proposals, off grid, largely rural, households will be subject to a ban in less than three years on new and replacement boilers, with their only current option being to install a heat pump. 1.7 million off gas grid households, who rely on heating oil, such as kerosene, to heat their homes, are facing little choice in how they decarbonise their home heating, as well as exorbitant costs to do so.

This imposition is anti-choice and underlines a fundamental lack of understanding from Westminster about the nature of some of the homes expected to install a heat pump. Their existing energy efficiency, location, age and construction means that these residents will face substantial additional costs and disruption to switch to a heat pump, estimated at an average of £22,000 per home. In an age of soaring cost of living, it is difficult to see how this policy can be a vote winner.

Conservatives, in particular, are sounding the alarm over looming costs.  The poll found that 89% of Conservative councillors want their constituents to have a real choice about how they decarbonise their home heating, and 81% are concerned about the financial impact of Net Zero. The regional break down found that 100% of Conservative councillors in the South West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber agreed that rural communities should be given the choice to decarbonise in a way that suits them. These stark results should come as worrying news to the Government that all is not well in their rural heartlands.

If we are to successfully reach net zero emissions by 2050, the Government needs to recognise, as its councillors have done, that not all homes will be suited to heat pumps and not all homeowners necessarily want one. The Government should adopt a technology neutral approach, recognising that what works for one household does not work for all. This means giving people a real choice about how they decarbonise their homes.

Today, OFTEC together with our industry partners UKIFDA, are launching a report in parliament showing that there is an alternative way forward; one that is low cost, minimally disruptive, and simple for residents to achieve.

Over the course of the last 18 months, we’ve successfully demonstrated the use of a renewable liquid fuel called hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) in 150 properties across the UK. HVO is derived from waste cooking oil and is a direct replacement for heating oil.

The project has confirmed that an 88% reduction in carbon emissions can be achieved with an upfront investment of £500 per household. Importantly the conversion to HVO can be delivered with minimal changes to existing appliances and can be done during a normal hour-long annual service.

Today’s report concentrates on a typical rural, predominantly oil heated village called Kehelland in Cornwall, where a number of residential properties, two schools and a church were converted to HVO. The report examines the experience of 17 households converting to the renewable liquid fuel and the various decarbonisation options available were evaluated.

The report concludes that if government were to extend cost reduction programmes available to other sectors, at no cost to the taxpayer, HVO conversion is the cheapest decarbonisation option over a 15 year period, has the lowest upfront investment requirement and the lowest cost per tonne of carbon saved under all scenarios.  The experience in Kehelland therefore shows that there is a real, credible and crucially affordable choice for off grid households to decarbonise their heating.

However, with the cost of HVO currently over double that of kerosene, assistance is needed to make renewable liquid fuels a viable alternative to fossil fuels such as kerosene, and help rural communities decarbonise quickly and affordably.  OFTEC is urging the Government, through amendments to the current Energy Bill, which is about to enter the Commons, to enable the Kehelland project to become a reality for millions more off grid households across the country and incentivise take up of renewable liquid fuels.

This can be done through two minor legislative changes - and at zero cost to the Government - by replicating the existing Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation which creates a price reduction for HVO to end users of vehicles and aircraft. The Government must also bring the fuel duty rate of HVO for heating in line with that of kerosene heating oil.

The poll is a timely reminder that rural off grid customers want to have their voices heard. With a general election likely around the corner, the Government would be wise to heed the concerns of its local councillors and their constituents. Not doing so puts it at risk of losing the confidence of its rural heartlands. Decarbonisation can be achieved more quickly, and in a fairer and more equitable manner, simply by giving consumers the power to choose; at the moment, the Government seems intent on pursuing a heat pump-first approach to the detriment of its net zero ambitions and electoral prospects.

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