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Civil society groups call for tripling of onshore wind and solar capacity amid energy crisis

The coalition is calling for sufficient capacity to be available in the CfDs to support the tripling of onshore renewables. Image: Getty.

The coalition is calling for sufficient capacity to be available in the CfDs to support the tripling of onshore renewables. Image: Getty.

A coalition of 38 civil society groups have called on government to support households facing surging energy bills, to scale up measures to reduce gas use and to drive forwards renewable energy.

Together they have penned a letter sent to the prime minister, chancellor and business secretary after Boris Johnson announcing that there will be a new energy strategy following the increased volatility in the energy market due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In an article written by Johnson for the Daily Telegraph this week, he said the energy security strategy would be published later this month.

Amongst the requests in the letter, groups called for a boost to renewable energy by ensuring there is sufficient capacity allocated across the annual Contracts for Difference auctions. This should include at least tripling onshore wind and solar capacity by 2030, supported by the removal of onerous planning restrictions which have held back onshore wind.

As well as expanding renewables, the government should rule out the expansion of North Sea oil and gas operations, and maintain the ban on fracking.

“This is a fossil fuel crisis, and new fossil fuels from the likes of fracking or new North Sea oil and gas aren’t going to solve our problems,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, one of the authors of the letter.

“We can reach true energy freedom and stand up to Putin, but that needs the government to back properly funded measures to support households, accelerate renewables and properly fund home upgrades to reduce our use of gas altogether. Otherwise this risks being yet another plan that props up our dependence on volatile and expensive fossil fuels at just the moment we can least afford it.”

The use of gas should be reduced through energy efficiency and insulation, and switching to electric heat pumps, the letter argued. Key to this is consistent, long term policy support and funding, with the first step to be fulfilling the Conservative manifesto commitment to support energy efficiency through existing schemes including a further £1.4 billion for the Home Upgrade Grant and at least £0.2 billion for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Scheme.

Additionally, the government should create a new programme with at least £3.6 billion in funding to support insulation of existing homes, while the installation of heat pumps should be supported through both market mechanisms and at least an extra £4 billion by 2025. Both these measures can be supported through the £16 billion green gilt and UK Infrastructure Bank.

In the shorter term, the letter – whose authors include E3G, Regen, MCS Charitable Foundation and Energy Saving Trust amongst others – called for immediate help with household energy bill increases.

Soaring gas prices over 2021 and into the beginning of this year, combined with increased volatility in recent weeks due to the invasion of Ukraine, mean one in three households in the UK now face fuel poverty.

As a minimum, the government should uprate benefits as soon as possible to April’s inflation rate rather than the planned 3.1%. It should also reinstate the £20 universal credit uplift, and inject a further £7 billion into the benefit systems.

Further targeted support should be introduced to cover the expected rise in household bills. The price cap is increasing by 54% in April, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced three new measures in February to help households manage the impact. These included a one-off repayable £200 loan, a £150 council tax rebate and a discretionary fund to help households manage the increase over the summer.

However, given the increased volatility, there are now predictions that the price cap will jump by around 50% again in October, pushing energy bills over £3,000.

“The cost-of-living crisis, fuelled by soaring energy prices, is totally unsustainable and is hitting the lowest-income families the hardest,” said Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at Save the Children UK, one of the authors of the letter.

“In the upcoming Spring Statement, the Chancellor has an opportunity to ease this burden on families by uprating benefits in line with April’s inflation rate, and invest to keep homes warm and bring fuel bills down.”

The call follows growing pressure from companies, charities and political parties for the government to act on energy prices. Trade body Energy UK has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide additional support measures for consumers and the economy in his upcoming Spring Statement, while the Labour Party has set out a five point plan to increase energy security for example.

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