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OFTEC warns: govt strategy could increase fuel poverty

The government’s latest strategy on renewable energy could mean more fuel poverty, according to one of the leading trade associations in the heating industry.
OFTEC warns: govt strategy could increase fuel poverty
Under new government's proposals, households using fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, would be taxed to encourage them to use more renewable forms of energy like solar and biomass. The move is part of the UK's commitment to make 20% of our energy come from renewable sources by 2020.

However, many fear the proposed system of grants and incentives for renewable energy will push those on the breadline further into fuel poverty.

Many of those households affected will be in rural areas which have no access to the mains gas network, and rely on alternative fuels such as oil and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

'Government has proposed a system of grants to help people with the cost of installing solar and biomass heating systems, while unfairly taxing those households which have no choice but to continue using fossil fuels,' said Jeremy Hawksley from OFTEC which represents the oil heating industry in the UK.

'Many households cannot afford even part of the cost to switch to renewables bearing in mind that biomass boilers using wood for fuel can cost upwards of £8,000 to install.

'With the number of households classified as fuel poor currently estimated at almost six million, it is fundamentally wrong to propose a strategy that will force an even greater number of households into fuel poverty.

'Furthermore, government has completely ignored the most logical way that we could reduce carbon emissions by using existing central heating systems. Environmentally friendly liquid biofuel made from waste oil could be used in the 1.1 million existing boilers which currently use oil for heating and hot water, at very little or no capital outlay. Using biofuels would help people switch to renewable energy without fear of unfair taxation.'

Liquid biofuels are already being used in mainland Europe but government here has shied away from them recently following negative comments about biofuels used for transport.

OFTEC said that, in a report prepared earlier this year for the Renewables Fuel Agency, Professor Ed Gallagher questioned the UK's commitment to using biofuels for transport, and recommended the rush to use biofuels be slowed until effective controls were in place to make sure biofuels came from sustainable sources, so as not affect food supply.

But many in the industry believe that using biofuels for heating would have a more positive effect than using biofuels for transport, said OFTEC. And by using a fuel called FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) which comes from waste oil, there would be no adverse effect on food supply or prices.

Field trials using the new liquid biofuel are about to be carried out in Norfolk, and it is anticipated the fuel will be widely available in the UK by 2010, added OFTEC. The capital costs for adapting an existing boiler to run on biofuel would be around £1,200 compared with more than £5,000 for a biomass boiler.

Although government proposals attempt to address the problem of carbon emissions, many believe the current strategy ignores the high incidence of fuel poor in rural areas, said OFTEC. And with rising fuel prices affecting us all, the push for renewables may drive many more into fuel poverty where they are forced to make the decision - fuel or food?

15 October 2008

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