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Has Britain now totally abandoned any integrated energy policy?

ImageIt delivers the UK’s energy aims. It can create jobs. It can help remove millions from fuel poverty. So why has the new Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform department blatantly turned its back on energy efficiency?

The rhetoric is all too familiar. Delivering energy efficiency is the swiftest, most cost-effective and publicly acceptable way of delivering the nation’s strategic energy objectives. Improving competitiveness, reducing imports, eliminating fuel poverty, combating climate change.

The priority is clear. It has been for many years. So presumably things are organised within government to ensure that it is followed through? Sadly, the converse is true. Two Departments of State have responsibility for energy policy. In charge of overall policy is the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform department (BERR), formerly DTI. They have just had a reshuffle of the entire energy “command”.

Twenty-four departments

There are now some 24 separate units in place. Each deals with a different strand of energy policy. Guess how many have any overt responsibility for delivering greater energy efficiency? Correct. None.

Worse, those units which might just stray into energy-saving seem not just to ignore it. They overtly downplay the potential.

For example, a new unit has been formed to create a policy on “heat”. A good notion: buildings are the biggest user of fuel, heat is the biggest consumer in buildings.

The unit launched with a consultation document. Some 102 pages long, it raises a whole series of questions as to what might be done to improve policy in this area. Not one even alludes to the potential for reducing fuel wastage. Instead, forecast consumption levels are simply accepted, as a given. Worse still, the only quantitative chart on cost-effectiveness states that the most expensive option on offer is to refurbish buildings.

Why has such a purblind approach to policy making been developed? The reason has to be that, for the past 16 years, energy efficiency policy has not been administered by the department which looks after energy policy. Worse, for the past six years, its responsibilities have been just tagged on to the old Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, now rechristened DEFRA. But in terms of its expenditure, dominated by the old “ag and fish” interests.

Consequently, energy efficiency policy has taken more and more of a back seat in a Department which can perceive the issue’s merits only in terms of its potential to save greenhouse gases. In other words, as a purely ecological matter.

So, it is just the carbon-saving potential of any policy that is seriously considered. Witness the change from the Energy Efficiency Commitment to the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target. Witness how the forthcoming commercial sector energy-saving trading scheme has morphed into the Carbon Reduction Commitment. Witness the way everything is now to be measured in terms of potential carbon, rather than kilowatt hours, saved.

When energy-saving policy was handed over to DEFRA, there were five very senior officials whose jobs were exclusively involved with the development of energy efficiency policy. Six years later, I was introduced to an official described as being “now in charge of energy-saving policy”. A splendid individual. But five rungs down from the top of the Department.

Other benefits of saving energy

The consequence is that there seems to be almost no appreciation of the many other virtues of investing to save. For instance, has there ever been any attempt to look at the employment potential which a more purposeful energy efficiency programme would offer? BERR/DTI have done that for nuclear. Twenty years after my association published the first detailed estimates, there have been many unofficial studies. But nothing with official backing.

What estimates have been made of the resources needed to deliver the (statutory) commitment to eliminate fuel poverty? What attempt has been made to set out a road map as to how this can be achieved? Nothing official has ever been published. Instead the main DEFRA-funded programme Warm Front just saw its budget cut by 25 per cent this month.

The result of this narrow policy approach is clear. DEFRA has permitted energy policy to be recaptured by the Big is Beautiful brigade. A few months after DEFRA came into existence, the government published its first energy policy White Paper in a generation. That stated clearly that energy efficiency policy should be—as per the quote above—the first policy priority.

Not only has DEFRA’s mismanagement allowed that priority to slip. It is very dubious as to whether there is any clearly integrated energy policy at all. The consequence is that we now have a slower to implement, more expensive and less publicly acceptable energy future to contemplate.

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