THE BLOG

Not a Job You Would Want

01/12/2013 22:28 GMT | Updated 31/01/2014 10:59 GMT

Imagine being the hard pressed civil servant at DECC responsible for the UK's domestic energy policy. You have heard strong rumours that David Cameron wants to 'get rid of all the green crap' on energy bills. It is not really surprising, you have spent the last two months responding to constant headlines about rising energy prices.

Your mood isn't improved by the latest Green Deal figures. Only 1,173 households have signed-up some way off the 10,000 year-end target set for this flagship green initiative. Sooner or later you will have to explain how this number represents good value for the £12.6 million already spent on administration.

Surely it is time to wave the white flag of surrender to the baying crowd and "roll back the green levies" as the Prime Minister has promised. But can you do that with a sound conscience given what you know that isn't in the mainstream media debate?

For instance, is it right for the sixth largest economy in the world to know that around 24,000 excess deaths will be caused from cold homes this winter? Is it acceptable that there will be an estimated nine million households facing fuel poverty in 2016 - something which the government had committed to eradicate? Is it justifiable that over the last four years the amount of government spending on fuel poverty has dropped by 31%?

You know that the most sensible first step to cutting energy bills and carbon is to help people not waste so much in the first instance. You also know that government incentives and initiatives are essential to get people to act. Market drivers alone will not work. The question you are grappling with is how best to pay for the measures. The Treasury is adamant that you can't add the costs to general taxation as they are shifting as much expenditure as possible off the public books.

Your only option is to create a more compelling case for the two tools that you have at your disposal the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation. How do you do that? Four solutions spring to mind.

Reframe the debate. 'Green' is now a toxic word to Conservative Ministers and the majority of the media. This toxicity will only increase as we head towards the election. However, the reality is that the Energy Company Obligation is primarily a social measure aimed at helping the most disadvantaged people insulate and heat their homes better. Highlighting that money on bills is going to those most in need and will cut excess winter deaths is a more compelling argument than nebulous environmental issues.

Make the Green Deal work. This might be an impossible task given the somewhat stuttering start but the government could drastically shift up-take by lowering the interest rate available to households who take up the Green Deal. Evidence from other countries, such as Germany, shows that a lower interest rate will have a significant impact.

Reduce the administrative burden of ECO and broaden its remit. One reason that ECO is so expensive is that the bureaucracy is a nightmare and what it can support is very limited. Broadening its remit would make it cheaper. For example research by Global Action Plan has found that in 2011 UK households could save £24million in one year if they had bought the most efficient fridges. ECO could be extended to cover efficient appliances which would immediately cut energy bills of the most in need.

Hold the energy companies to account. Most energy companies have been ridiculously slow to implement the Energy Company Obligation - even though they have already taken consumers money to pay for it. This slow start inevitably increases costs as they are rushing to meet deadlines. It is in their interest for ECO to be cut which is why they have been playing political games promising to cut bills if the obligation disappears.

These are four solutions that are relatively easy to implement and would help cut fuel poverty and carbon. I hope that we see ideas such as these announced in the Autumn Statement on 5th December. My expectation is that the highly emotionally charged political nature of the discussion will result in ECO being cut. If it is the Government will have to hope we don't have another series of freezing winters which will cause unnecessary deaths from cold.