Caroline Lucas responds to Net Zero and Heat and Building strategies

Caroline Lucas MP recently responded to the Government’s Net Zero and Heat and Building strategies, calling them ‘deeply worrying’ and ‘nowhere near ambitious enough’, respectively.

Caroline Lucas in front of Parliament
Green World

Caroline Lucas MP has responded to the Government’s Net Zero and Heat and Building strategies, warning that the outlined policies are so far inadequate.

Yesterday evening (18 October), the Government published its Heat and Buildings strategy, which was originally floated for autumn 2020. The strategy aims to ‘drive down the cost of low carbon heating technologies’ through a series of funding schemes, with headline targets for the phase-out of gas boilers set for 2035. 

The Government states that new grants of £5,000 will be available from April 2022, funded by a £450 million three-year Boiler Upgrade Scheme. The scheme is part of a £3.9 billion investment in the decarbonisation of heat and buildings, which the Government says will also fund the next three years of investment through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, the Home Upgrade Grant Scheme, the Heat Networks Transformation Programme, and the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.

Commenting on the Heat and Buildings strategy, Caroline Lucas said: “Reports that the Government is to announce plans to phase out gas boilers and promote a shift to heat pump systems are welcome, but nowhere near ambitious enough. Grants of just £5000 and a 2035 boiler phase-out date simply won’t be sufficient to drive down emissions or to support low-income households to make the switch. The UK’s heat pump policy lags well behind other European countries, with the UK installing 30 times fewer heat pumps than Estonia and 60 times less than Norway.

"Promises that ‘in the future’ heat pumps will be no more expensive to buy and run for consumers than fossil fuel boilers just doesn’t cut it. We can’t wait until 2030 to bring the costs down – we need larger grants now.  

“Government’s failure to introduce significant grants and zero-interest loans for home insulation at the same time as introducing measures to promote low carbon heat is a massive omission, and is yet another example of a Government target with no properly thought-through or funded plan to meet it. When nearly 19 million homes fall below the energy performance certificate (EPC) rating C, and with around 10,000 excess deaths each winter caused by damp cold homes, the need to replace the failed Green Homes Grant with something bigger, bolder and better is overwhelming.  

“We need a significant investment to deliver a comprehensive, local authority-led home insulation programme and to support families’ transition to clean heating, which would, in turn, deliver thousands of good green jobs across the country. A new Zero Carbon Homes standard must also come into force by 2025 at the latest, and we need to see measures to cut VAT to zero per cent for refurbishment projects which substantially reduce the emissions of buildings."   

Ahead of the Government’s Net Zero Strategy, set to be announced this week, the Financial Times has outlined a series of expected policies. The main strategy is expected to be built around nuclear power, delivering a future fleet of large atomic power stations via a ‘regulated asset base’ (RAB) model. The RAB funding model is already used for a host of other projects, including the Thame’s Tideway super-sewer in London.

Under the funding scheme, households will be charged for the cost of the plant prior to electricity generation, through an energy levy. According to the Financial Times, it could be a decade or more before the plants begin generating electricity, depending on when the final investment decision is made. The Government is also backing smaller modular reactors (SMRs), which are being developed by a consortium led by Rolls-Royce.

Caroline Lucas has raised concerns over the Government’s support for nuclear power – commenting on the Net Zero strategy, she said: “By banking on nuclear power, the Government is backing a white elephant. Nuclear is more costly than alternatives, too slow to be useful in the increasingly urgent fight against climate breakdown and too centralised to be part of the solution.  

“In terms of a new fleet of SMRs, the suggested funding model (regulated asset base) also dumps the cost on consumers who pay twice, first by paying up-front to reduce the cost of borrowing including picking up the tab for cost over-runs, and then for the extremely costly power once the plant is operating. Consumers are already facing soaring energy bills because of the gas crisis: now it looks like the Government is building high bills and uncertainty into the system for years to come.  

“It’s also deeply worrying that the Government is building its strategy partly on carbon capture and storage, including allowing new gas and biomass power plants fitted with CCS.  We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, not find ways of continuing to burn them."