New approach balances Net Zero commitment and rural concerns

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MP Chris Loder welcomes £78 billion support for households and Net Zero adjustments to ease rural transition worries

You may recall that this time last year, the government implemented the Energy Price Guarantee – a cap of £2,500 for the average household on dual-fuel tariffs, to tackle rising bills. A raft of measures was also introduced for businesses and off-grid households, including the Alternative Fuels Payment Scheme and the Energy Bills Support Scheme. Taken together, this package of measures provided – and continues to provide – an unprecedented level of financial support, worth more than £78 billion across 2022-23 and ‘23-24.
This winter, we can cautiously expect a return to some degree of normality with our energy bills, as wholesale energy prices have dropped to their lowest level since October 2021. Nonetheless, for those households and businesses struggling to pay their energy bills, support is still available, and I’d be very happy to help should you need any advice or assistance.

Let’s talk the cons
Aside from the immediate situation, there are also questions about our long-term energy usage. How resilient is our energy supply? What can be done to minimise the environmental impacts of energy production? How can we reach Net Zero by 2050 without burdening households and businesses in rural areas?
The Prime Minister recently announced a new approach to delivering our Net Zero commitment, especially where it would have an unfair impact on rural people. Under the previous approach, new or replacement oil and gas boilers would have been banned from 2026 – a policy with which more than two-thirds of constituents who completed my Rural Energy Survey disagree.
The reality is, the previous approach disproportionately affected rural families, businesses and those with low incomes. In my view, this was unjustifiable – especially during a cost-of-living crisis. Moreover, the preferred alternative – heat pumps – come with an average price tag of £10,000, a sum far beyond many household budgets.
The wider debate has rarely included an understanding of the consequences. The language of Net Zero has always featured the pros, but very rarely the cons – that is why the Prime Minister has balanced and adjusted some of the immediate initiatives, while maintaining our commitment to Net Zero. I have been clear that the consequences for rural Britain were not adequately understood or balanced, which led to my scepticism with the former policy.
In rural West Dorset, 51 per cent of households aren’t on the mains gas grid. Even with a government grant, it would simply not be practicable for these households and businesses to pay for an expensive new heating system.
Under the new approach, off-grid households and businesses will only need to install a heat pump if they are intending to replace their current boiler after 2035 – nine years later than originally intended. In addition, one-fifth of all households will be exempt where it isn’t practical or affordable to do so.
This is positive for those properties and premises in Sherborne and the wider Blackmore Vale, many of which are centuries old and do not have the right conditions for the installation of a new heat pump. For households and businesses that are able to and want to transition to a heat pump today, grants worth £7,500 – or 50 per cent of the cost of a heat pump – are available under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.
We must not lose sight that, per capita, carbon levels in the UK are at their lowest since the 1850s. The UK has also over-delivered on its targets, with the fastest reduction in emissions in the G7. We’ve had the fastest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – down by nearly 50 per cent compared to 1990, while China has increased its emissions by 300 per cent. Taken together, this enables a more pragmatic and realistic route to be implemented in due course by 2050.

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