News Conservatives unveil 'green deal'

Conservatives unveil 'green deal'

Tories court property owners with promise of free cost-saving home improvement scheme and pledge 'immediate action to to keep Britain's lights on'

Every UK homeowners will benefit from an allowance of up to £6,500 to make their properties more energy efficient, under a "green deal" proposed by the Conservatives today. The idea is part of a wider energy and climate change package aimed at kick-starting a green economy in the UK. 

The shadow energy and climate change secretary, Greg Clark, said a Tory government would immediately approve construction of several nuclear and coal-fired power stations to help prevent electricity blackouts in the next decade, to strengthen the national grid and enable the harnessing of renewable energy sources at sea, and to boost the number of charging points for electric cars. 

Heating and powering homes accounts for 27% of the UK's overall carbon emissions and, speaking this afternoon, Clark set out how the green deal would aim to reduce this total. The money, to be sourced from the private sector, would not be given to householders directly; instead, energy companies or charities would insulate homes at no cost to residents and then recoup the money through energy bills. As the new insulation would reduce energy use, this should not result in extra costs for the homeowner. 

In his speech, Clark said a Conservative government would "begin with a bound and with immediate action to keep Britain's lights on, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and give Britain leadership in a low-carbon world."He criticised Labour's inability to appoint a longstanding energy minister. "[In] 12 years […] there have been no less than 15 energy ministers," he said. "They had an average of nine months each. Enough to make a baby. But, apparently, not to make a decision."

Tory proposals include:

• approving 5GW's worth of coal-fired power stations, fitted with carbon capture and storage technology which has the potential to trap up to 90% of carbon emissions

• securing planning permission for nuclear power stations by 2017

• upgrading the national electricity grid to allow it to respond intelligently to the peaks and troughs of demand throughout a day

• extending the national grid out to sea to enable the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy. 

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said that no political party had been able to deal with the challenge of coal. "We need a step change in political thinking to get the UK on a genuinely low carbon path and to achieve the zero emission power sector required by the Committee on Climate Change by 2030." 

He added: "The current government position is to capture only a small proportion of climate changing emissions from new coal plants. That's not going to be good enough. To get it right, the Conservatives need to be clear that they will set a tough emissions standard that rules out all emissions [from coal plants] from day one, and [that they will] commit to meeting Britain's ambitious renewable energy target." 

For individuals, the Tories' green deal will mean that an average household can expect savings of £360 per year on energy bills via simple home adjustments, including energy-efficient lighting and cavity and loft insulation. Based on an average spend of around £1500 per home, around £120 of the yearly saving, for 25 years, would go towards repayment of the loan and interest. Householders would be able to keep the remaining £240, with the loan tied to the property rather than the homeowner who initially took it out. 

The Conservatives said that a scheme for retrofitting homes could see the creation of a £2.5bn per year industry and up to 70,000 skilled jobs, including 3,500 apprenticeships. 

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council said the building and home improvement industry needed political leadership to "unlock a fantastic new market for refurbishment, with huge benefits for people, the economy and the environment. The upfront capital cost has been an understandably big barrier for most people, but this type of scheme allows householders to pay for the work from the savings they make on their energy bill – and still be better off as a result. The green deal is a big step in the right direction." 

But the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, said: "The Tories fail to deliver on renewables, since Tory councils turn down 60% of windfarm applications; they can't tackle climate change through Europe because they hang around with climate change deniers; and they vote against the investment in the green manufacturing jobs of the future. Voters should beware: the Tories may talk green but they act blue."  

Ed Matthews, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, thought the figure of £6,500 was too low. "The level of funding must be at least, on average, £20,000 per home to enable homes to cut at least half their carbon emissions." 

The Department for Energy and Climate Change announced plans earlier this year to provide green makeovers, to include cavity wall and loft insulation, for 40,000 homes a year by 2015. Financial incentives for householders will also be available for low-carbon technologies such as solar panels, biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps, paid for by a levy on utility companies. The government wants 7m homes to benefit from the schemes by 2020, extending to all UK households by 2030. If successful, the strategy would shave a third off household carbon emissions by 2020.

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