Kevin Hollinrake is MP for Thirsk and Malton.
At times like these, it’s nice to come across a good news story. Not just one that resonates within the Party, but one that voters will appreciate in homes up and down the nation. One that sees more money left in household budgets – and one that curbs not only the amount of energy we waste but that helps keep a lid on carbon emissions to boot.
The notion that energy bills are constantly rising seems to be trapped in our hearts and minds, maybe even resulting in last year’s energy price cap. But does the cap – which seemed a big issue at the time – properly tackle the problem at hand? Where, in fact, is the evidence that energy bills are going up?
It seems like an odd question, but Government figures this week show that, when we account for how much energy we use at home – rather than pegging to an outdated, arbitrary figure that assumes we are using the same amount of energy as 10 years ago – British families are not facing ever-rising bills for the gas we use to keep warm or the electricity that powers our daily lives.
The numbers show that the average home paid £1,155 for gas and electricity during 2018. This is pretty much the same as the bills landing on doorsteps when the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Compared to a high in 2013 – when fossil fuel prices were soaring – homes are now nearly £200 better off per year.
And while they edged up higher on the year, this bucking of the trend was driven by surging prices in global gas markets, which is beyond the control of individual nations or governments.
We can also look to numbers from our boffins at the Office for National Statistics. Total household spending on gas and electricity in the 2017/18 financial year (the latest for which data is available) was nearly ten per cent lower than just three years prior, a saving of nearly £60 million, which households can spend on other things. Energy costs as a proportion of household budgets has also fallen, down half a percentage point in just three years to 3.7 per cent.
So why has the notion of ever-rising bills spread far and wide? It is easy to point at journalists looking for an easy headline, or at price comparison websites trying to earn commission. But a longer-running notion is the idea that the transition to a low-carbon and highly efficient energy system would ultimately hit British families in the pocket.
Entrenched for more than a decade, the warnings have been increasingly proven wrong. Back in 2010, less than seven per cent of the power flowing into British homes and businesses was from renewables. Last year it was a third, having more than doubled in just five years.
At the same time as boosting clean power output, we have also been slashing the amount of energy we waste at home. Better performing appliances, fewer leaky walls and windows, and high-tech boilers are all driving the amount of energy we use down. A 2017 report from the Committee on Climate Change showed that our bills are close to £300 lower per year than they would be without a range of efficiency measures that are in place.
Unfortunately, we are now at risk of seeing this good news story come to an end. Despite some progress, our homes remain the leakiest in Europe, with new-builds being constructed well below standards that would ensure they are fit for the future. So it was great to see the announcement of a Future Homes Standard in the Budget, locking in a promise to halve energy use in all new buildings from 2030. Encompassing all energy use and all buildings, this would go further on cutting waste and keeping bills down than the (unfortunately cancelled) Zero Carbon Homes policy did.
On top of this, another easy fix is to open the door to onshore wind power. Wind farms are now significantly cheaper to build than high-carbon gas alternatives, yet no auctions are scheduled to bring new capacity online. The surge in offshore wind is surely to be commended, especially the recent Sector Deal, but without new turbines on land we risk higher bills and higher emissions in the future.
This is why I am proud to put my name on a cross-party call for the Prime Minister to clear the road for new onshore wind farms. It is vital that we make the most of living in the windiest country in Europe, just as we made the most of North Sea oil.
Cutting waste and cutting costs are essential to keeping bills down, easing pressure on hardworking families and freeing up cash to flow into other parts of the economy. We should be celebrating the progress we have made in modernising our energy system, and jumping on simple steps that ensure more good news stories for years to come.