Energy Efficiency

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 30th June 2010.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli 4:05 pm, 30th June 2010

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; you have taken the words out of my mouth. Perhaps the Minister will place some very large solar panels in the constituency of Ms Bagshawe.

Let us get on with the issue of prospects in energy efficiency. First, I should like to talk about the situation of the Welsh Assembly Government and the cuts. As we know, energy efficiency does not often get called a front-line service. Housing and education are clearly front-line services, but they take a large proportion of the Assembly budget. What money is left for the measures such as those carried out by the Department for Communities and Local Government in England-housing issues-and the excellent Welsh Home Energy Efficiency scheme, which is similar to the English Warm Front scheme? It worries me that the cuts to the Assembly Government could disproportionately affect what energy efficiency measures they are able to implement.

The Assembly Government have some innovative schemes in the valleys, where they are renovating ageing properties, which have traditionally had poor energy efficiency. That type of scheme could be under threat. I hope that the Minister will make representations to Treasury Ministers that particular consideration needs to be given to protecting energy efficiency budgets. That also applies to the money passed to the Assembly Government.

Sometimes, there are special schemes that attract a "Barnett consequential"-a technical term for additional funding for a recently announced Government measure that had not previously been put into the budget. The boiler scrappage scheme came under that title. If we do not get the funding in, a lot of the good work that has been going on could easily dry up.

We have to give much greater priority to energy efficiency than has been evident in much of the talk about which services we can protect. We all understand that if we get the investment in and continue to push for considerable amounts of energy efficiency savings, that will have considerable impact on savings made by individuals and public bodies.

During the last Government, there were productive discussions about feed-in tariffs and in April this year a scheme was launched, incentivising those who produce their own energy to produce extra, which they can feed into the grid. Such people are often extremely conscious of energy efficiency measures in their own homes, and they also contribute to the energy needs of the nation. I am disappointed that feed-in tariffs have not yet been extended to people who already had energy-saving equipment installed in their homes-the pioneers who two or three years ago, when such things were much more expensive and not so many Government grants were available, were putting photovoltaic systems, solar panels or wind turbines on their properties and were able to feed electricity into the grid. The coalition Government need to look carefully at what they can do to ensure that those who already had these installations benefit from the feed-in tariffs, not necessarily backdating that to cover all the electricity that has ever been produced from such installations, but from April, when that benefit was introduced for people who had new installations put in.

That relates to an issue that I am sure that my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead will mention-renewable heat incentives. I will leave him to elaborate further, but it is another matter that the coalition Government need to look at again. They should support the plans that we had for 2011.

A difficulty appears to have arisen across the country in terms of electricity costs, which are allowed to vary because Ofgem accepts that varying costs in different geographical areas reflect the cost of service provision. However, that leaves people in south Wales with an average electricity bill of perhaps £467 per year, while those in the midlands may pay £433 per year. Surely such regional differences are an outdated anomaly when the market has been opened up so that all providers can now supply different areas and one supplier no longer supplies one area alone. Will the Minister have talks with Ofgem to see whether the current pricing arrangements can be looked at again, because they do not seem to be very fair and equitable?

I am also very concerned about rented property. It is often the poorest families who find themselves in private rented accommodation, some of which is frankly disgraceful. It can be very draughty because it has never been properly insulated, and the costs that residents pay for their energy provision are enormous. They often do not have central heating and are paying for the bar on the electric fire or the most inefficient forms of gas fire. There has been no encouraging sign from the Government, or from the Minister today, that they are going to regulate landlords in the way that Labour planned to do. This needs to be tackled head on, not only in regulating the types and standards of property but in incentivising landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency ratings of the properties that they rent out. The lack of such energy efficiency is a serious problem for those members of our society who are least able to pay.

Another issue that the Minister would do well to tackle is waste in commercial premises. When we put on our coats to go and do our shopping in the autumn, in the run-up to Christmas, we find ourselves in various forms of shop or shopping centre with open doors and enormously overheated areas. Of course we must have a reasonable amount of heat for the shop assistants working there, but an awful lot of people complain that they are absolutely boiling when they are walking around these shops. Obviously the shops would benefit from spending a lot less on the heat that they are producing, but as yet they still seem to be doing it. There is a great need for discussions with the Minister about ways of trying to keep temperatures down to sensible levels and thereby make considerable savings; perhaps there could be voluntary codes. Linked to that is the huge amount of money that is spent on heating and lighting shop displays for 24 hours a day. Perhaps we could think about guidelines on the excessive amount of energy that is used in commercial premises at all hours, even when they are not open to the public.

Public transport is a major source of energy use, and it contributes significantly to what we can do about our carbon emissions. I share with my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner considerable disappointment that we have not heard a lot more about it, either from the Minister today or in the coalition Government's programme.

We need to continue to invest heavily in rail infrastructure, whether through electrification of the line from London to south Wales, which I hope will go further than Swansea and out into west Wales, or through building terminals that enable freight to go by rail more easily. That could be achieved through increased rolling stock, because people do not enjoy a journey when they are packed into an overcrowded train like sardines in a tin, and they therefore revert to going by car. All those matters need to be considered carefully if we are to reduce the amount of car traffic.

There is rolling stock for Sunday trains, and it is a great shame that it is not used more extensively. In my area, people of course go shopping on Sundays, and they like to go to sporting events and the seaside. However, we are on the main line from London to west Wales and the earliest train that we can get on a Sunday from Llanelli to Tenby, a well known seaside resort, is at quarter to 3 in the afternoon. When someone gets their family there it is quarter past 4, by which time there is no point being there for a nice day at the seaside. Instead, people pile into their cars and cause traffic jams and huge queues at Carmarthen. When they get to Tenby, the traffic is so bad that there is a park-and-ride scheme to keep the town centre free for pedestrians. It is an absolute nightmare, but if people could go by train it would all be avoided. We need to reconsider people's ability to go away for weekends to stay with their families and so forth, and we need a much clearer picture of franchise requirements for Sundays, which should reflect changed lifestyle patterns. I hope that the Minister will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Transport to see whether they can give public transport a greater priority.

Another matter that I should like the Minister to take up with his colleagues in the DFT is encouraging people to think about their fuel consumption in their private cars. I think a few Members are in their places who will remember the 1970s, when a limit of 50 mph was imposed because of the so-called fuel crisis. A lot of people are unaware of the different fuel consumption patterns of their vehicles and the fact that going at very high speeds can often increase consumption considerably. We need a public information campaign, as we have had on other energy efficiency matters, to point out to people what savings they can make. People are incentivised by the idea of saving, but they are unaware or forget that savings exist. Obviously the situation is not the same for all vehicles. They vary, and technology has improved enormously, but there are still savings to be made and well informed public information campaigns could help considerably.

I shall finish now, because I know that many other Members would like to get in. We have to ensure that we do not let the whole issue of reducing our emissions and being as energy efficient as possible become sidelined by people who say, "We cannot afford to do that because of the financial crisis". We cannot afford not to do it, because great savings can be made from both the public purse and private individuals' pockets. We must all make the most of every opportunity to push the Government for a much more energy-efficient programme.

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