Commentary

The golden infrastructure opportunity

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Energy-bill-revolution v2
Photo The Energy Bill Revolution

In the lead up to the General Election, the Energy Bill Revolution called for cross party consensus on making home energy efficiency a UK infrastructure priority. The aim was to generate the energy efficiency investment required to end fuel poverty, slash carbon emissions and generate jobs.

This call was embraced by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in their manifestos. It was also supported by a wide range of major business associations and right wing stakeholders. This included the CBI, the think tank Policy Exchange and the Conservative Chairman of the UK Climate Change Committee.

But despite this endorsement, ambition on energy efficiency was omitted from the Conservative Party manifesto. Instead, a pledge was included to insulate only 1 million homes. The coalition government delivered energy efficiency measures to 5 million households in the last 5 years. So this pledge represents an 80% fall.

The paucity of ambition in that pledge is hard to fathom and on the surface it looks like a calamity for the UK energy efficiency sector. But in fact there are reasons for hope.

The first reason is that David Cameron promised in 2013 to make the UK the most energy efficient economy in the world. He is personally ambitious on this issue. He just doesn’t want the cost all loaded on to energy bills.  

The second is that the Conservatives committed themselves in their manifesto to cost effective decarbonisation measures and to support the Climate Change Act. There is no way they can deliver that ambition without significantly ramping up energy efficiency.

The third reason is that the Treasury has plans for £100 Billion of infrastructure investment over the next 5 years. Economic evidence published last autumn by Cambridge Econometrics shows that using a tiny percentage of these capital funds to invest in energy efficiency would represent high value for money as an infrastructure investment and deliver a world class energy efficiency programme. It could reduce gas imports, slash energy bills, make big NHS savings and generate 100,000 jobs.

As Amber Rudd takes her place as newly appointed Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), she needs to put energy efficiency infrastructure investment at the top of the pile of DECC negotiating priorities on the Comprehensive Spending Review. No other infrastructure investment can achieve so much. It is a golden opportunity to save energy, boost the economy and end fuel poverty. It must not be wasted.