New Clause 10 — Green deal installation apprenticeships

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North 1:45 pm, 14th September 2011

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend Caroline Lucas, who has made a very informed speech about exactly the points at the heart of the measures. I, too, want to address the green deal to dig out more about the golden rule and the energy company obligation. We all agree that it is right that energy efficiency improvements should be provided at no up-front cost. That is a good thing that we all support across the House and want to see implemented. As has been pointed out, however, the loans will be provided at commercial rates through the green deal and will attach to the property, not the householder, for up to 25 years.

The golden rule has been introduced to require that all green deal loans are less than the repayment cost resulting from the installation of the measures. The qualifying energy efficiency improvements will be determined through the energy performance certificate. This means that any savings will be estimated and based on standardised use. As a result, there are no guarantees that actual savings will match or better the estimated savings, as I pointed out to Andrew Percy. The Bill’s central premise is that consumers will save more on their energy bills than they will repay in loan costs and that that will be enough to drive consumer demand. However, the Bill provides little detail about how demand for the green deal will be driven beyond that basic finance mechanism other than through the introduction of the new ECO, which will underpin the deal and subsidise properties that require energy efficiency improvements but for which the golden rule would not be met.

It is estimated that the green deal will reach more than 40 million homes by 2020 and a further 12 million by 2030. That amounts to the retrofitting of 1.7 million homes a year—that is 4,800 a day—between 2012, when the green deal starts, and 2020. The Committee on Climate Change has estimated that, between 2012 and 2022, we would need to insulate 8.3 million lofts, 5.7 million cavity walls and more than 2 million solid walls to meet the UK’s carbon budget. The Government’s expected take-up of those measures, through the green deal and the extension of the carbon emissions reduction target, misses those requirements by 3.8 million lofts and 2.7 million cavity walls.

Although I support the aspiration behind the green deal, it is difficult to see how it could be achieved under the proposals. Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change’s third progress report to Parliament concluded that the Government proposals should help to strengthen incentives for the take-up of energy efficiency measures. However, there is a significant risk that they will not adequately address the range of financial and non-financial barriers. I do not want to talk the measures down because Members on both sides want them to work, but it is important that we are realistic about their likelihood of success.

The economies of energy efficiency retrofits at today’s energy prices simply are not attractive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion has pointed out. That is because of the gap between projected returns based on current energy prices and the cost of borrowing—a gap that can be met only if substantive subsidies are applied. Recent analysis by E3G has highlighted that at today’s prices and with the commercial interest rates that the Government intend to apply to green deal financing, the golden rule cannot be met on a 25-year loan. The Government have quite rightly identified that the up-front costs of improvement and access to capital are significant barriers to the uptake of energy efficiency, but we should be clear that the green deal alone will not overcome them. Without intervention to limit the cost of borrowing, consumer demand for green deal programmes could be very low indeed.

Furthermore, access to capital is not a universal problem. For those who can afford them, savings, mortgage extensions and personal loans have long been readily available to provide up-front capital for energy efficiency investments, yet they have not been used on any scale, despite the fact that many people are able to procure those borrowings at 5% or 6%, let alone at the 11% that the Government are suggesting. Financing through the green deal simply does not stack up for the rational investor, and particularly for low and middle-income households.

Let me give an example. The annual energy bill for an average household is calculated at £1,029 a year. A good whole-house retrofit would be expected to save approximately 50% on the average energy bill—in this case, just over £500 a year. Solid wall insulation was identified by the Committee on Climate Change as the main energy efficiency measure that could usefully be financed by the green deal, but according to DECC’s own analysis, the capital cost of solid wall insulation ranges between £7,600 and £12,600. Let us take the cost of £12,600 and the maximum saving of £500 a year; in fact, DECC’s analysis estimates that solid wall insulation would save only £400 a year, but I give it the extra £100. Through the green deal, if we pay back £500 a year, through the savings on the energy bill for that average house, against the £12,600 loan over 25 years, we still do not pay back the full amount. That deal fails the golden rule.

An energy company obligation is being introduced to subsidise the difference, reducing up-front costs to the point that they are less than the energy savings. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that up to £17 billion of support will be required through the ECO to insulate 2.3 million solid walls by 2022, but the Government have estimated that the total ECO support would be only £1 billion. The fact that the golden rule cannot be met even before the cost of finance is factored in is a matter of huge concern.

The Government have calculated that the green deal’s financial cost will be cheaper than a market personal loan, but they concede that it could mean rates of up to 11%. At today’s energy prices, to drive demand by meeting the green deal’s golden rule, 25-year loans would need to be offered at rates of 2% or less. E3G’s recently published analysis concluded that a £15,000 loan at 0% over 25 years for changes that delivered a 50% energy saving and lifetime savings of £2,461 could meet the golden rule in year 8, but that the same loan offered at just 2% would incur losses of £1,747 over that 25-year period, whereas a similar £15,000 loan for changes that delivered just a 35% energy saving would not break even at all even with interest at 0%.

At more commercial rates, the economies of the green deal are simply unmanageable. Households with access to capital—those with the option of using savings, mortgage extensions or personal loans—are not using it for this purpose and will not be incentivised to do so under the Bill. Low-income households could require up-front grants of 55% of the overall cost of making energy efficiency improvements, simply to reduce costs to a level where the remainder of the capital could be borrowed at commercial rates over 25 years without any negative impact on annual household outgoings. For many investments to break even over that 25-year period, they would need a significant subsidy via the ECO.

The ECO’s objective is to support low-income and vulnerable households and properties that need energy efficiency measures that do not meet the golden rule. The cost would be recovered from increases in consumer bills. That is a worryingly regressive means of funding energy efficiency measures, particularly given the likely subsidy that will be required to make the green deal viable. In my example, under the ECO, many households that do not benefit from energy efficiency improvements could subsidise those that do.

The ECO will be accompanied by the withdrawal of the Warm Front scheme by 2014. It will be replaced by the affordable warmth element of the ECO, the purpose of which is to provide up-front support to help households heat their homes affordably. In 2009-10, Warm Front delivered more than 21,000 cavity wall and 40,000 loft insulation measures, as well as 80,000 boiler replacements. I should be grateful to the Minister if he clarified what proportion of the overall ECO will be targeted at the affordable warmth element and the criteria that he will apply to determine what low-income households will be eligible and how many retrofits the Government estimate will be carried out under the affordable warmth obligation.