Is there a safer way for the government to waste our money than on green energy projects?
A new report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is scathing about the Green Homes Grant Scheme, which was supposed to transform 600,000 homes with greener insulation and heating systems, but was scrapped earlier this year after just six months of operation.
Only 47,500 homes received a grant, and this ended up costing taxpayers over £ 1,000 per property in administration costs.
PAC said the program did not take into account a shortage of tradespeople who could do the work it was supposed to fund.
Why does it always end like this? David Cameron’s Green Deal was pretty much the same.
Introduced in 2013 to reduce carbon emissions by offering loans to insulate homes, the National Audit Office found that it had saved “negligible amounts of CO2” by the time it closed two years later.
Swaffham Prior is the latest village to test a new green program using a municipal heat pump
Today I can reveal a green energy project that looks like an even bigger turkey.
Near where I live in Cambridgeshire, the county council has paid £ 12million – including a £ 3.2million government grant – to a community heating system powered by a geothermal heat pump (which transfers heat to / from the floor).
It was meant to be a test bed for how all properties could be heated in the future. By the end of December, however, only 47 homes had registered.
So unless there is a last minute interest surge, it will end up costing over £ 250,000 per house.
This is what some houses in the village of Swaffham Prior are worth.
Yet ministers intend to force us all into similar plans. You may have heard that the government is proposing to ban the installation of new gas boilers from 2035.
Pictured: How the communal heat pump project in Swaffham Prior will work
A little less well known is that the end will come sooner for oil-fired boilers and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) boilers – used by four million homes that lie beyond gas pipes.
As part of the Heating and Buildings Strategy, new installations of these boilers will be banned from 2026, as part of a push to comply with the government’s legally binding goal of eliminating net emissions of carbon by 2050.
So if my oil boiler breaks down in five years, I won’t be able to replace it with another.
I will either have to find room for a bulky biomass boiler – burning wood pellets – or install an electric pump. This pumps heat either from the air outside your home or from the soil under your garden.
But heat pumps are very expensive – at £ 12,000 on average they cost three times as much as an oil-fired boiler. In addition, their operation is more expensive and, according to some, does not heat homes sufficiently.
This is why the Government wishes to explore alternatives, such as heating homes via a municipal pump, taking advantage of economies of scale.
The Swaffham Prior project was meant to be a test bed for how all properties could be heated in the future. By the end of December, however, only 47 homes had registered.
The Swaffham Prior Heat Network should therefore do the trick. The plan is to lay pipes under a field on the outskirts of the village, extract heat from the ground and use it to pump hot water to residents’ existing radiators.
When the water starts flowing next March, it should come out at 72c on frosty winter days and a little cooler in summer, when it will only be used for baths or showers.
Many homes in Copenhagen, for example, are heated through a communal system that pumps water throughout the city. Nottingham also has a district system that pumps hot water to 5,000 homes, using heat produced by a waste incinerator.
But where have the economies of scale gone in the case of Swaffham Prior?
The most absurd thing about the scheme is that even if all 300 houses in the village had registered it would still have cost £ 40,000 per property.
This is almost four times what it would cost each inhabitant to install a heat pump. How the hell did anyone think that spending £ 12million on a heating system for just 300 houses was good value for money?
Of course, pioneer projects always cost more, before prices tend to fall. But it’s far from affordable.
It’s so typical of what’s going on with climate change policy – all financial sense goes out the window.
In the government’s panicked attempt to reach net zero emissions by 2050, it will be throwing money away after all.
What has made many residents reluctant to join the program is a clause in the contract that says it can be terminated with two years’ notice if it turns out to be unviable. Which would leave them without heating at all.
We all want clean energy. But the truth is, there is still no heating method on the market that can almost match the price of oil and gas.
Britain already has 2.4 million households living in “fuel poverty”, according to government figures. Unless technology changes quickly, this will increase once oil and gas central heating is banned.
If you are to trust the Swaffham Prior project, you would need the rich pockets of a millionaire before you could consider joining an unsubsidized district heating program.
The Denial by Ross Clark is published by Lume Books.