On the evening before we target the Treasury on account of their responsibility for winter deaths, we set the record straight on the blame and the truth in the murky world of UK energy politics…
This Thursday we will learn how many thousands of people here in one of the
world’s richest countries died last year because they couldn’t afford to heat their
homes. We have already been told where to put the blame. From the Mail to the
Guardian all the headlines say “green energy” will be responsible for further rises
in the cost of heating our homes.
We are being told we have to choose between the climate and keeping our
homes warm. Stop for a moment and imagine, what a tragic dilemma that
would be! While deaths from hypothermia have doubled over the last five years,
hurricanes, floods and rising food prices are bringing home the cost of climate
change in cash and in lives. Lucky for us, the dilemma is a false one.
The truth is:
• Soaring profits, market manipulation, and the rising cost, danger, and
climate impact of fossil fuels as they become rarer and harder to extract
have been responsible for almost all of the recent huge increases in bills.
• The age of many UK power stations means extra investment would be needed now whatever energy sources are chosen. (And no one expects the companies to use their profits to fund their own investment. That would be capitalism!)
• Energy companies’ primary revenue streams and capital are presumed to be for investment in fossil fuels. The cost of investment in renewables is then labelled “extra” and funded by a “levy”. We’re told that this is an add- on that will put up our bills.
• Much of the “extra” added to bills to pay for “green” energy could go to subsidise nuclear power plants, amazingly re-packaged as “environmental measures”, to carbon capture & storage – an unproven technology to prolong the use of fossil fuels, and to forms of biofuel which do more environmental damage than oil and gas. There are even plans for the levy on our bills to compensate investors when fuel costs go down: that is, to guarantee high prices, whatever the market.
• Based on the government’s own estimates, “green” measures now make up £20 a year of the average domestic gas and electricity bill; with the newly permitted increase it would rise to about £80 – but this is in the context of bills currently averaging of £1,249. (Guardian, 22 Nov, “Energy deal means bills will rise to pay for green power” (sic)) Without the “green” measures they would probably rise still higher.
• The bills are killers partly because the poorest customers – people who are scared to turn on the heating, or who use prepayment meters – are charged more per unit than the rich on direct debits from their bulging bank accounts. And because so many homes are draughty and damp, leaking energy like a sieve.
• DECC expect the replacement of current schemes with the government’s “green deal” will reduce the take up of loft insulation by 93 per cent and cavity wall insulation by 67 per cent.
This Thursday, pensioners, single mothers and disabled people will join
Fuel Poverty Action outside the Treasury, Horse Guards Rd at 11 am to
tell George Osborne what we know about the reality of energy, bills, fuel
poverty, and who is responsible for “excess winter deaths”.
Finally, keep in mind this cautionary tale…
Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved CHOCOLATE. He came from
a big and powerful family and they all gave him pocket money for it. Even the
neighbours had to contribute, the family was so powerful. The little boy got very fat
and very sick and he still had a huge sack of money put aside for more chocolate. It
couldn’t go on like this!
One day his parents said, “We are really worried about your health, you have to start
eating some FRUIT. We want you to start spending some of your pocket money on
it, and some of the money in your sack.” But the boy kicked and screamed and said
no, he needed all of that for chocolate.
So his parents said, “Ok, we will add to your allowance. You can get a bit more
every day from all your neighbours, and from us, to spend on fruit. But not more
than that – the neighbours will be angry at spending so much money on fruit, when
they are hungry. We will put a cap on it. The neighbours will still be angry, but not
TOO angry. The fruit sellers will get off our backs. And you will still have all your
pocket money and your sack of money so you can buy plenty of chocolate.”
The little boy was a bit suspicious. He thought it might be a scheme to make him eat
more fruit in the end. So he told all his neighbours, “Look what they’re making me
do! You are being forced to subsidise my ‘healthy diet’!” The neighbours looked at
all that extra money they were paying and they got angry. They said, “Why should
he have fruit when we are hungry?”
The little boy went on spending just as much on chocolate – in fact, he increased the
required contributions to his chocolate fund, because there was no cap on that. He
also spent a lot of his fruit money (no one could say how much) on chocolate coated
raisins and big chocolate oranges. And when anyone said he was spending too
much, he complained about the price of fruit.
The little boy got fatter and fatter and sicker and sicker. His neighbours got hungrier
and hungrier and sicker and sicker. But remember, we said at the beginning, this
couldn’t go on? Just before all the chocolate in the world was finally used up, the
little boy got a tummy ache and he popped. The neighbours? We don’t know yet
whether they made it.