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Greenest government ever? Depends how much it costs us

The Prime Minister once promised ‘the greenest government ever’. Today he warned the move to green energy must be financially sustainable. We’re worried not enough’s being done to help consumers.

Energy ministers from 23 countries are in London for a ‘Clean Energy’ summit.

The Prime Minister has used the opportunity to tell ministers that he is passionate about renewable energy. He warned that green energy needs to be ‘financially sustainable’, particularly as families struggle with bills in the face of higher gas prices.

Higher gas and electricity prices

This inevitably leads us to ask – is the government doing all it can to help consumers as they press for more investment in low-carbon energy? After all it’s you and me left picking up the bill.

We know that soaring fuel bills remain our number one financial concern and will continue to be a worry as the country enters recession once again.

It’s good news that David Cameron is discussing these issues and recognises the need for the government’s policies to be financially sustainable and affordable. We too want affordable energy for everyone.

But this isn’t just about rhetoric – we have to judge the government on the policies it’s delivering.

Ill-thought out green initiatives

Too many of the government’s green initiatives are ill-thought out and look set to be ineffective and costly – from the £11bn smart meter fiasco, the poorly planned Green Deal, the Solar PV feed-in tariff where costs have tripled and the carbon floor price that will push up fuel bills without incentivising investment. They’re all issues we’ve discussed on Which? Conversation and know that many of you share our sentiments.

Just this week on Which? Convo, John Healey MP agreed the smart meter roll-out ‘cannot end up being a billion-pound calamity’. We’ve been able to take on your concerns about smart meters and present them to government along with our own. Commenter Dave feels strongly about the issue:

‘It is too big to fail but if it goes ahead at present it will fail.’

And Chris told us:

‘I see no real harm in the concept of a smart meter, it’s this use for that £11 billion I’m not keen on, especially as times are currently tough. It would buy an awful lot of insulation.’

Many feel the green deal has lost its shine too. Commenter Alan said:

‘The Green Deal is a way for energy companies to get round their legal commitments cheaply. The only people who’ll be better off in ten years will be those companies.’

Renewable energy is important to the UK

We think it is important that the UK’s energy system is sustainable. Renewable energy and nuclear power can provide a useful hedge against volatile gas prices.

However, there are significant challenges and costs associated with low-carbon generation. And the costs to bill payers must be taken very seriously. This means that the government must develop policies that really will encourage us all to save energy and protect us from volatile future prices, but this must not come at any price.

Has the Prime Minister’s speech today convinced you the government is offering consumers a fair deal?


I don’t want green I want cheap.

Sorry, we’ve used all the cheap gas and oil from the North Sea in a generation. What are you proposing to destroy next?

“Sorry, we’ve used all the cheap gas and oil from the North Sea in a generation. What are you proposing to destroy next?”

The right to have to pay the companies exorbitant fees for the consumption of fuel which we nee to survive. Being stupid isn’t being green, it is being counter productive as at sometime someone will have to pick up the bill when the cost is oo great for anyone to pay.

To answer your question – destroy the wasteful wind turbines which blight our shores and start to invest in renewables which can provide power without a backup, remove subsidies from all power production.

I’m afraid in most peoples’ minds cheap = abundant.

Even when North Sea oil and gas were at peak production in the mid-1980s, I built my house to Scandinavian standards of insulation – forgoing several foreign holidays to help pay for this – burnt wood from my own garden and ran a 900cc VW Polo. To me, it was the responsible thing to do, even before Chernobyl put the kibosh on nuclear energy. Meanwhile, the rest of the UK still seemed intent on burning as much of the North Sea’s reserves as quickly as possible.

And (I see No2Wind makes a similar point below) having already done my bit to minimize my family’s energy use during my lifetime, why are we now being screwed over to pay for the feckless to start installing loft insulation and CFL light bulbs, just as the Golden Goose (or should that be “Buzzard”) is about to lay its final eggs and we can least afford it?

Yet fuel is still too cheap to encourage most people to change their behavior. I hear a lot of whining about paying more to fly the family off to some exotic destination for a fortnight’s holiday, but people don’t seem to question the need for it. Businesses continue to overheat their offices and shops throw their doors open in a futile attempt to warm up the High Street in winter.

As you say, we need fuel to survive, not to drive around in 20mpg Range Rovers fitted with inefficient low-profile tyres, so we can pretend to be David Beckham. Being stupid certainly isn’t being green, and the only way to make people less stupid seems to be to make them pay an awful lot more for the privilege! It’s unfair on the rest of us with a normal IQ, however.

No2Wind says:
28 April 2012

“Em”, I agree completely with your 9:39 posting. It called to mind something I have set in my computer because it is so true and is an apt comment on the green religion being pushed by our recent Governments; I hope you enjoy it.

The Green Thing
Checking out at Tesco, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”
. The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day even though we shopped with our own grocery bags and used free recycled brown paper bags in the shop.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the shop. The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were re-cycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocers and didn’t climb into a 200-horsepower machine every time we had to go two streets. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 3,000 watts of electrical power — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the
 green thing back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief
(remember them?), not a screen the size of Yorkshire. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.
When we packaged a fragile item to send in the post, we used wadded up old news-papers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.
When we were thirsty we drank from a tap instead of drinking from a plastic bottle of water shipped from the other side of the world. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical socket in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerised gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000
miles out in space in order to find the nearest fish and chip shop.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?
Please forward this on to another selfish, grumpy old git who needs a lesson in conservation from a smartass young person.
Remember: Don’t make old people mad. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to p*@s us off.

That was so good, No2Wind, I have saved it and will reformat it as a text for future reference. I might even frame it and hang it up for daily remembrance.

Every initiative from every government since 2005 (coinciding with Hampton principles being adopted, causing “advisory” and “needs of the business” regulation) has increased the burden of cost on to the customer.

ONS figures show this to be the case.

Whilst OFGEM has been standing by and watching, the big six energy companies have been deliberately publishing ever more confusing bills (university graduates cannot work them out!) that hide charges, commission payments to switching websites and costings that are not based on the amount of energy used/costs – falsely claiming “price cuts” (Eon claiming in national press that their last cut was 6%, it was not!) – misleading customers regarding National Grid price rises (Eon again, charging customers more for “increases in national grid charges” when in fact they do not increase until the end of 2012) – mis selling on the doorstep to customers – funding the Energy Saving Trust alongside successive governments, whilst refusing point blank to declare exactly how much they are paying the EST to increase marketing for their industry.
Then we have the EDF debacle, whereby OFGEM fined them just £1 and edf are to make a “donation” of £4.5 million, £3 million of which will go towards providing insulation for customers – whilst leaving out information that this can be clawed back via customer’s bills under the terms of the ECO (Energy Company obligation), which also creates a floor limit for the price of insulation.

Successive energy ministers (including one Ed Miliband) have dismissed customers concerns out of hand and brought in plans that increase customers bills still further.
People are feeling the squeeze now, some are going without food to keep warm, others are going without heat just to be able to eat, we haven’t got 10 years to wait around and hope that the industry as a whole may save the odd Billion, as this will go into energy company profits and not customer’s pockets!

No regulation, no voice in government/parliament, the customer has nothing but higher bills to face.
Those in power can dress it up and name plans/policies what they so wish, the people have had enough, get it sorted out, do it now, or leave office and get someone in who can do the job.

hummingbird99 says:
27 April 2012

Clearly Mr Cameron hasn’t a clue. One minute there are enough wind farms (and many have been inappropriately placed and public money wasted on them, he says) and the next let’s have more etc. His views depend upon who he has had dinner with the night before!!!
We need an economical and secure and reliable energy system in the UK which won’t send our manufacturing industry off to cheaper shores. We need one based on science and engineering and FACTS, not some airy fairy fanciful green ideology that won’t provide enough for the whole of the population. We are greedy and wasteful and our population is growing out of hand. Until we address these issues we don’t have the time or money to waste on “dreaming” how marvellous it would all be if we didn’t need nuclear, gas, oil etc.

No2Wind says:
27 April 2012

As a retired electrical engineer, I am particularly concerned about the level of microwave radiation emitted into our local atmospheres by modern electronic devices and transmitting antennae/booster amplifiers and include this link to the shown effects of “smart meters” in Wisconsin. I don’t think these people may be classed as ‘stupid’ – they know what they feel.

I am in agreement with much in the article but seriously question the basis of the following comment:
“Renewable energy and nuclear power can provide a useful hedge against volatile gas prices.”
This must be considered in the light of the real-time situation.
Firstly, nuclear power in this country cannot be a hedge against volatile gas prices because it generates ‘baseload’, a different energy supply level to gas, and baseload is called that for the very reason it is a ‘baseload’ and is not subject, if at all possible, to even daily fluctuations; it is retained at a level beneath which a constant GW output is mandated so that modulating or turning off these plants except for maintenance, a complicated and time-consuming task, is avoided.
On the other hand, the use of renewables energy in an otherwise secure, demandable and dispatchable energy generation portfolio mandates the inclusion and building of new gas [ OCGT or, less likely CCGT, the fossil fuel of choice] plant for 24-365, inefficiently burning, shadowing of renewables generation which does not act as a hedge against volatile gas prices. It keeps us firmly nailed to the volatility of world gas sources and prices unless we exploit our own.

We must move away from the personal campaigns of brainwashed technically illiterate Secretaries of State to promote an expensive “green” hell which benefits very few of us.
It is a small step to install “Smart meters” into homes and then remotely control the electricity usage of those properties irrespective of the occupant’s requirements and/or situations. This is the reality of allowing our unenlightened political caste to chase a 1984 scenario.
Just to build perspective, my wife and I are in fuel poverty and we do have to decide whether to “eat or heat”.
We spent our own cash on our own green deal in the early 1980s [roof insulation, cavity insulation, solar panels for water heating as it can be stored, and replacement double-glazed windows] simultaneously with bringing up three children, but why should we be forced to contribute to the “green” deals now being offered, by Government grants, to other members of our society because they do not have the financial discipline we demonstrated. And no, we were not rich to do this, just determined to better our lot by sacrificing the frivolities of life and spending our money in what we considered a sensible fashion. I suspect that applies to many others in our society as I meet them in the street every day.

Yet another ‘ cunning idea’ from Baldrick Cameron.
What is needed is Action Today not more rhetoric.

It is Cameron now, but it was Blair before then Brown as well, regardless of which colour is in number 10, the policies continue to attack customers pockets, like we are some sort of cash cow.
It astounds me that we pay Ofgem millions every year, whilst they sit back and allow reductions in our storage capacity and say/do nothing.
Buying cheap energy then having to sell it abroad because we have nowhere to put it was/is a disgrace. Buying it back at even higher prices when it’s winter and the price has risen, is damned negligence!
When the Norwegian pipeline opened, they paid the UK to take their gas, so much so, that if inclined to do so, the government could have given every pensioner in the UK a free winter of gas, where did it go instead?
It went to the energy companies, which in turn sold it to customers making more profits and paid taxes back to the government of the day.
Even when there is a clear opportunity, that would not cost the government anything, all colours when in office, choose to put customer’s needs last.

Windfarms springing up all over my area over past 3-4 years, the price continues to rise.
UK ship in plenty of energy, the price continues to rise.
We pay millions each year to regulate the industry, the price continues to rise.
We are being misled at every turn.
Installed full energy saving double glazing, inc. doors, we used more units of energy.
Installed new A rated boiler system (including thermostatic rad valves and all brand new pipework), we used more units of energy.
Installed brand new room thermostat, we used more units of energy.
We put the heating on a timer (timewise using for less), we used more units.
We double rendered the outside of the house and fitted cavity wall insulation sheets, guess what? Yep, we used more units.
We installed a multi fuel burner, ran it for 2 months, we STILL used more units!

I rang the energy saving dept of our gas provider, they said this cannot be right as we have fitted more energy saving measures than they could/would recommend, they sent me to billing dept.
The billing dept agreed that it must be wrong, but in 12 weeks of investigation (using that term loosely) their conclusion was, “Our meter can only measure the gas you have used so it must be correct and accurate!”

Over £7500 worth of “energy saving” measures and we continue to use the same number of units of energy (some months it’s slightly more) than before we fitted them.
Utterly disgusted with energy companies, Ofgem and successive governments.
To quote my mum, “They are all full of it!”

Audrey Ragg says:
21 October 2012

I live on the South coast in Dorset and a big argument is raging at the moment re the plan to install up to 300, 200 metre high wind turbines between the Needles and The Old Harry Rocks.I imagine the cost will be astronomical and the effeciency is doubtful..It occurs to me that it would be a good deal cheaper,quicker and more effective to put free Solar Panels on properties in a radius of the South Coast.The Isle of Wight is hoping to become self sufficient in energy by next year by it’s policy of solar panels on commercial buildings including some fields and also a new kind of small wheel-shaped turbines which can stand in people’s gardens.