Why is the Government not doing anything to bring the profiteering energy companies to heel - Jayne Dowle

Don’t be fooled by Rishi Sunak’s munificence. Ordinary people are still going to have to pay the price, one way or another, as the government steers its course to make the UK achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Prime Minister, in a major government volte face, is now telling us that we won’t be forced to rip out gas and oil boilers in favour of heat pumps at a cost of thousands, but doing absolutely nothing – as far as I can tell – to bring the profiteering energy companies to heel.

It’s all very well to say that former PM Boris Johnson’s zealous plans to phase out gas boilers by 2030 have been put back five years, to 2035, and the 2026 ban on new off-grid oil boilers – with a nod to the rural Tory vote, obviously – also deferred to the same date.

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Clearly all this is designed as an early salvo in a forthcoming General Election which is going to get pretty bloody over the cost of living crisis.

An engineer checks the installation of a heat pump on a model house. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty ImagesAn engineer checks the installation of a heat pump on a model house. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty Images
An engineer checks the installation of a heat pump on a model house. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Mr Sunak is increasing grants for installing heat pumps, the ‘green’ alternative to boilers that take energy from the air, the ground, or less commonly, water, rather than fossil fuels such as gas, oil or coal, to £7,500 from £5,000 for an air source heat pump and £6,000 for the ground source version.

It's by no means free money. Although the cost of heat pump technology is gradually falling as more companies come on board and increase competition, depending on the kind of system you choose, and the upgrades for radiators, pipework and insulation required, you’re still looking at a significant household outlay of thousands.

Not many of us, reeling from punishing interest rates, have that kind of money down the back of the sofa.

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Also, pushing people towards heat pumps now, with the temptation of a few more thousand quid to lend a helping hand, overlooks some pretty major obstacles.

For a start, everyone in the British heat pump industry knows that there are nowhere near enough trained technicians ready and able to put in the kit - so finding a heat pump expert requires diligence, patience and determination.

Also, another one of Mr Sunak’s get-out-of-jail cards, removing his last-but-one predecessor’s insistence that homeowners and landlords would be forced to meet certain insulation targets for their properties or face punitive sanctions, runs entirely counter to the great heat pump jamboree.The UK has some of the most badly-insulated housing stock in Europe, just one of the reasons why hitherto, we’ve not embraced wholeheartedly the heat pump system with as much vigour as better-built Scandinavian countries, for example.

If you can find a heat pump engineer to talk to in the first place, they will likely tell you that one of the first rules for a successful heat pump experience is that the property it will occupy should be super well-insulated.

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Any responsible engineer would do a thorough survey of your home before even starting on specifying the technical kit; a major part of this would be inspecting how airtight and heat-retentive the walls, roof and ceiling are.

Has Mr Sunak, with all those government energy efficiency experts to hand, not joined up the dots? Or does a rich man so out of touch with the experience of ordinary people that he reportedly had the local electricity grid at his manor house, Kirby Sigston in North Yorkshire, upgraded to deliver enough power for his heated swimming pool, just not get it?

And has he also not joined up the dots on the fact that whether British homeowners are dragged kicking and screaming into the heat pump revolution or not, taking off the pressure is counter-productive; we will simply end up relying on imported gas for longer.

The problem with this government, and with Opposition politicians too if we’re honest, is that they consistently fail to join up the dots of energy.

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On one hand they talk about achieving net zero, and reducing carbon emissions, and on the other, they refuse to level with greedy profiteering energy companies squeezing customers and failing to drop their prices significantly despite wholesale price falls in gas, especially.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last Friday, for example, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves blithely chatted about how electric cars were suddenly going to become more affordable, and how the cost of electricity was cheaper than gas. Every single EV owner I speak to complains that nothing had prepared them for the cost of charging their car at home. And last time I looked at my dual fuel bill, electricity was rocketing far ahead of gas.