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UK Government hopes new Energy Bill will help encourage Britons to go green

By David Hewitt - 10 Dec 2010 9:18:3 GMT
UK Government hopes new Energy Bill will help encourage Britons to go green

Britain's homeowners are to be given a helping hand in making their properties more energy-efficient and - perhaps more pressing for some - the guarantee that they won't lose out by doing so.

While some local councils may be taking the stick to those people who fail to do their bit for the environment - such as the London boroughs set to introduce on-the-spot fines for residents who don't separate their rubbish and recycling - Westminster is determined to adopt the 'carrot approach' and incentivise people into becoming more eco-friendly.

Under the plans already laid out for the government's Green Deal, which is due to come into effect in 2012, utilities providers will be required to cover the up-front costs of helping their customers make their homes more energy-efficient, for example by fitting insulation. Customers will then pay them back in the form of additional charges tagged on to their bills, though the long-term savings offered by such home improvements will generally more than cover the amount paid back over a period of months or even years.

Now, in the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill being put before the House of Commons in London, the government has outlined how it intends to reassure Britons of the advantages of taking up the Green Deal offer. For example, not only will individual households and small businesses be insured against poor-quality upgrades through a new system of consumer protection, but they will also be able to rest easy knowing that the cost of such improvements will be tied to the property rather than the individual, meaning should they move, they will leave any monies owed to their utilities provider behind them.

Setting out the plans before jetting off to join in the talks in Cancun, Britain's Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne explained that such an approach will effectively "make upgrading our nation's draughty homes a no-brainer".

"I am confident the Green Deal will catch on with the public," he said. "But I don't want people to be hoodwinked by rogue traders or receive dodgy advice."

At the very least, environmental groups agree with the minister in his assertion that the British public is keen to reduce its collective carbon footprint, so long as no major economic or practical barriers stand in the way. Welcoming this latest piece of legislation, WWF UK has commended the government for clearly setting out what steps it intends to take to reduce the country's traditional reliance on fossil fuels and above all for giving consumers a range of assurances concerning the benefits of going green.

That said, the environmental charity has nevertheless argued that such benefits need to be made even more explicit in order to 'nudge' people into making their homes more eco-friendly, with access to transparent and easy-to-understand information key to this.

"Business will only be interested in delivering the Green Deal if they can see a clear strategic direction for this scheme, and the scheme will only catch on with the public if there are clear financial incentives," explained WWF UK director of campaigns David Norman. "Our research shows that homeowners are potentially very interested in the Green Deal but need low interest loans and other incentives to make it worth their while."

However, cynics could argue that even top-down efforts to encourage everyday Britons to become more environmentally-aware will come naught if the interest isn't there in the first place. While the Copenhagen climate talks may have generated talk around the country's watercoolers, the Cancun summit has hitherto failed to grip the imagination of a public more concerned with economic worries and prospective government cuts. Getting people to pay attention, therefore, is arguably the most pressing concern for both ministers and campaigners right now, with slowly shifting their behavior and attitudes a longer-term issue.