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Hot Air not Warm Homes: Why the Greens’ manifesto commitments on energy efficiency are not credible

14th April 2015

In previous years the release of the Green Party General Election manifesto has not been accompanied with a great deal of interest from the national media, but with a growing share of the vote and with the outcome of the election staggeringly uncertain, the party may yet help to determine who forms the new administration.

One of the issues that has been given a prominent place in their manifesto is using energy more efficiently and their commitment to tackle the cold homes crisis. While it is unsurprising that the Green Party has given focus to reducing energy demand, many of the ideas and the overall scale of ambition is lacking in coherence and in many respects fundamentally muddled. Many of the specific proposals are lacking in detail and without further elaboration may turn out to be unworkable or have undesirable effects. Within their proposals there are a number of sensible policies outlined.

The idea of making domestic energy efficiency a UK national infrastructure priority, along with the commensurate funding from the infrastructure budget is an important overarching framework, this along with a number of the proposed policies we would fully endorse, as we ourselves proposed them in ‘Out of the Cold: An Agenda for Warm Homes’. These include giving tenants the right to oblige landlords to improve the energy performance of their home, requiring that properties in the private rented sector should be EPC C by 2025 and ensuring the devolution of energy efficiency delivery.

However, the overall target of insulating 9 million homes in total, aiming for Passivhaus ultra low-energy refurbishment standard by 2020 and investing £45 billion (over the course of one parliament no less!) is both arbitrary and unnecessarily ambitious. Neither campaign organisations working on these issues or industries in this sector are calling for anything at this scale, most probably because it is neither required nor remotely practical. The investment scenarios proposed by Cambridge Econometrics, call for all low income homes to be brought up to EPC C by 2025, they demonstrate that the total investment for the low income scheme for the first parliament is £8.1bn (with an additional Government contribution to the able-to-pay scheme of £4.9bn), this is less than a third of the amount of money the Green Manifesto claims we need to spend.

The Green party proposals also see local authorities as being the delivery body for these measures, while we agree that the delivery of energy efficiency should be devolved to the lowest appropriate level, many areas of high fuel poverty have local authorities which do not have the requisite staff and expertise to manage a programme of this scale, especially over such a short space of time. More detail is required to give credibility to this claim.

When we look into the details of their proposals for the private rented sector a number of other issues arise. Requiring properties in the private rented sector to be brought up to EPC C is an important goal, but there are a number of concerns with the target as it stands in the manifesto. Firstly, further consideration needs to be given to introducing an interim target to ensure that Landlords don’t wait till 2024, when the measures are likely to be cheaper, and install them all in one go. Not only would this fail to address cold homes prior to this date, but would put connected supply chains under an enormous strain. There should also be a carrot for landlords alongside this stick, offering them tax free incentives for the improvements made which slowly decrease as we get nearer to the deadline. It is worrying that there is no specific mention of properties that are off the gas grid, they are likely to have solid walls which are more expensive to treat and in some instances may not be able to brought up to an EPC C at all. Rather than unfairly penalize these properties, we should slightly relax the target to EPC D by 2025 to allow these landlords to make home improvements on a like for like basis with those who are connected to the gas grid.

For the able to pay market there is little or no mention of targeting the demand drivers for consumers looking to get energy saving measures installed. A surprising omission, as providing incentives to consumers, by for example reductions in council tax or stamp duty, would be both economical and effective in increasing take up amongst those who can afford to pay for energy efficiency measures.

Tackling the UK’s leaky housing stock is a vital issue to address over the next parliament, the Green party has contributed hot air when warm homes are required.

Richard Sagar is a researcher at ResPublica, working within the Prosperity Principle.

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