No one left behind
29th Jan 2024
A major weakness in the current policy towards heat decarbonisation was exposed last week
It was aired on TV. No one noticed or seemingly cared. But if we ignore the warning, then not only will we fail to meet our net zero deadlines we will do enormous economic damage to households in the process.
In a conversation with a journalist, no name needed, I raised the spectre of trying to run a gas network, with a third of the current domestic users but the full costs of the service falling on their shoulders. They would, by any definition, be the least well off in our communities because they will not have switched to alternative technologies, costs being a major barrier to do so.
The journalist confided that no one had ever raised this aspect of decarbonisation with him before. To be fair to him, he duly put this point to the Minister in an interview. The response was, how can I put this politely, defensive at best. The Minister acknowledged the issue but thought something would be sorted out for this group and no need to worry about broader policy as something would come along.
I was not convinced. I doubt anyone was, but this group (probably in the region of 8 million homes) can just wait until the Whitehall machine considers them important enough to deal with. It is not good enough. We need an energy transition that leaves no one behind.
So instead of our thinking ending with these consumers, let’s start with them.
We either accept this, continue to deliver natural gas to their homes and somehow offset their carbon emissions whilst offering financial support to cover costs or we decide to decarbonise the gas these homes will consume. I propose that this is a cheaper option for them than the alternatives.
Once this inevitable decision is taken, then the obvious question is why only 8 million, why not 12 or 15? That’s a fair question. And the answer, rather cynically I feel, is that if we start with this group, arrive at this conclusion, then we wouldn’t embark on the current policy direction. That’s why this group is left behind in policy thinking. Disappointingly, they are inconvenient at the moment and a burden to be left behind.