A couple of weeks ago The Conservative Woman published an article by Harry Wilkinson, Energy Prices Must Fall To Cut Deaths in the Cold, which was very pertinent given the weather and the failures of the National Grid. It addressed the current state of British energy policy, specifically the reasons why energy prices are higher than they need be and that it is the poorest who suffer most.
Well, Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, didn’t think much of being criticised. He wrote to its author, Global Warming Policy Foundation researcher Harry Wilkinson, to complain. He called the article a ‘polemic’. Harry has shared Mr Warren’s letter, and his reply, with us. We thought the correspondence deserved publication. Mr Warren and Harry Wilkinson have given their permission.
For the record, any attempts to silence criticism such as Ofcom’s recent decision on the BBC and Lord Lawson’s views on climate change, which we reported yesterday, fall on stony ground here at TCW – as indeed indeed do any attempts to silence us. It is depressing but true that TCW is the one of the few forums, if not the only one, where alternative views on controversial issues are allowed – whether this be on climate change, the BBC or abortion.
Dear Mr Wilkinson
Your polemic Energy Prices Must Fall To Cut Deaths in the Cold, published today by the GWPF on ‘The Conservative Woman’ website, incorporates two important factual errors. Both of these serve to undermine the case you seek to make.
You do rightly point out that Britain does have one of the highest excess winter death rates in Europe (only worsened by Lithuania). And you are right to state that ‘improvements in insulation should have resulted in warmer homes’: indeed, they have – but only in homes where insulation has been installed, and when installed, put in properly.
You entirely omit any reference to the approaching 8 million homes which are un- or under-insulated. Which is where all research has found that there is a far greater prevalence of cold-related health damage.
The price of electricity is to a large extent irrelevant to your argument – less than 1 in 8 British homes is currently dependent upon electricity for heating.
But your greatest canard is to make the presumption that there is ‘increased gas demand.’ This is simply not true. Over the past decade, consumption of gas has fallen from 55,384 mtoe [million tonnes of oil equivalent] to 41,707 mtoe, a drop of just under one-third, according to BEIS’ [Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy] own statistics.
That decrease in gas demand is largely due to the installation of more efficient boilers, and better insulation into many millions of buildings.
But sadly not all. Hence the number of homes still deemed to be in fuel poverty, precisely where those suffering from the cold are still to be found.
Chairman, British Energy Efficiency Federation
Dear Mr Warren,
Thank you for getting in touch and taking the time to read my article.
I do not agree with you that the price of electricity is irrelevant to my argument.
Firstly, while it is indeed true that the majority of homes are heated by gas boilers, a very substantial minority, about 2.2 million households, rely on electricity for heating and they tend to be poorer than average. A third of those electrically heated households have incomes lower that £14,500 a year; for them the price of electricity is critically important.
Secondly, the rising cost of electricity pushes up the amount households are spending on energy overall. Dual-fuelled, gas heated households are not immune to this. Many will be forced to turn down their central heating to compensate for rising prices.
It is also the case that government policies are increasing the price of gas. DECC’s [Department of Energy & Climate Change, now part of BEIS] Estimated Impacts survey in 2014 suggested that policies were putting about £2/MWh on the price of gas, a figure that would increase to £3/MWh by 2020.
Improving the insulation of people’s homes is certainly an important way to tackle fuel poverty, and a far better way to direct public resources if it is targeted effectively at poor households. But this does not justify increases in energy bills for the poorest people in the country, in the name of supporting thoroughly inadequate, unreliable and expensive renewable technologies.
Efforts to insulate people’s homes should work in conjunction with energy policy to try to reduce energy poverty. At present it is being utilised as an attempt to ameliorate government-imposed costs. In effect, government is confiscating the potential of improvements in efficiency and giving that saving to investors in renewable energy.
You have provided figures which show gas consumption lower than it was 10 years ago. Since 2014 however, demand has been rising; in part thanks to a shutdown of coal plants. This winter, colder temperatures saw domestic and business gas demand driven to their highest forecast levels since early 2013.
Our continued reliance on gas for heating makes it essential that we are able to draw upon secure and cheap supplies for many years to come.
Researcher to the Global Warming Policy Forum