Green heating plans unworkable in rural West Midlands

A survey has found the majority of rural households are unable or unwilling to pay for the green heating measures outlined in the Government’s current proposals, raising questions over whether plans to reduce emissions from homes in the West Midlands are achievable.

Malcolm Farrow
Malcolm Farrow

The Government’s current approach is to encourage most homes not connected to the gas grid, including the 8,500 oil-heated properties in the region, to switch to heat pumps and, in some cases, solid biomass or hybrid systems.

The average cost to install an air source heat pump is nearly £11,000 and, for a biomass system, more than £16,000. However, the survey found that 55 per cent of rural households would not be prepared to pay any more than £2,500 towards a new low carbon heating system, with a third unwilling to pay anything at all, creating uncertainty over how the transition will be funded.

Malcolm Farrow of OFTEC, a registration body for off-gas grid heating which commissioned the survey conducted by Opinium, said: “We all agree we must reduce emissions from domestic heating to support our climate change targets, but our research shows the majority of rural homes don’t have the appetite or ability to foot the bill for the government’s current proposals.

"This suggests the current plans are unlikely to be successful and a new approach is urgently needed.”

Consumers in poorly insulated homes may also have to fund the additional energy efficiency improvements needed to their homes for heat pumps to work effectively. Figures suggest 65 per cent of oil-heated properties, including the 8,500 in the West Midlands, fall into the lowest energy efficiency bands (E to G).

The Government estimates the average cost to upgrade EPC Band E homes to an acceptable Band C standard is £12,300 and, for Bands F and G homes, £18,900.

This survey shows these costs present an additional barrier to reducing emissions with more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of rural homeowners stating that £2,500 was the maximum amount they would be willing to spend on energy efficiency upgrades, with more than a third (35 per cent) of those unwilling to spend anything.

The issue has been underlined in a new Common’s report which called the government’s “botched” implementation of policies such as the now disbanded Green Homes Grant scheme “nothing short of disastrous”.

The report also suggested the costs invovled had been significantly underestimated, meaning rural consumers are likely to face even higher bills to lower emissions.

Mr Farrow added: “It’s hard to see how the seismic shift to heat pumps promoted by the government can be achieved, especially in rural areas, without very considerable financial support.

"With many consumers already struggling with household finances in the wake of the pandemic, low carbon heating solutions need to be affordable, fair and simple to implement.

“That’s why we are working to bring to market a new renewable liquid fuel for oil heated homes.

"Trials are already underway using a near drop-in replacement for heating oil that is certified as sustainable and which could deliver greater carbon savings than heat pumps in the short to medium term, at a fraction of the upfront cost.

"We believe it’s essential renewable liquid fuels are considered as part of the solution to decarbonise rural homes."

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