Chris Huhne the Energy and Climate Change Secretary shrugged off press interest in his driving record and election expenses to address the retrofit 2011 conference in Winchester last Friday.
The event was hosted by Radian – the Eastleigh based social housing provider – and consisted of a day long series of conferences and seminars in Winchester Guildhall.
Housing providers, environmental campaigners, energy suppliers and retrofit experts discussed ways of using government incentives to green the UK housing stock which would help reduce CO2 emission s– while reducing energy costs, creating jobs and boosting GDP.
‘Retrofit’ is all about modifying existing draughty and poorly insulated housing through a package of insulation and energy saving measures.
Typically walls and floors are insulated, lofts double insulated and the home draught proofed and double glazed. An energy saving lighting system is hardwired in ,a condensing boiler installed and solar panels for electricity and hot water generation fitted to the roof. In some cases rain water harvesting is also introduced.
The conference heard how Radian had sourced funding from the European Regional Development Fund, the Low Carbon Buildings Programme and East Hants District Council to retrofit 20 homes in Highfield, Southampton at a cost of £1.2 million which should result in carbon emissions from these homes being reduced by 70%.
The cost of the retrofitting homes is estimated will be £25,000 – £40,000 per home and will save householders an average of £550 per year off their fuel bills.
Under the forthcoming ‘green deal’, the government will lend up to £6000 for retro-fitting and remaining costs will be financed by the installers using low cost unsecured loans repaid on a ‘pay-as-you-save’ basis where repayments are rolled into the fuel bill which should decrease in line with consumption while overall monthly outgoings decrease.
The government also claims that assuming that all 26 million target homes are retrofitted –up to 250,000 new jobs could be created by 2030.
A slightly subdued but nevertheless still enthusiastic Mr Huhne addressed the conference for 20 minutes praising social housing providers like Radian for their pioneering retro fit projects which he said were vital in establishing social understanding and acceptance of the initiative.
Mr Huhne told the conference that improving the energy efficiency was ‘the way forward’
“The cheapest most affordable way to close the gap between energy demand and energy supply is to close the gap in the future is not to use the energy in the first place – much cheaper than building a new power station much cheaper than building a new windmill”
Mr Huhne described how everyone would be a winner as he told delegates, which included Eastleigh council cabinet member for housing Anne Winstanley – herself the target of press interest – that under the new green deal the government could:
“Work with social housing providers to keep tenants warmer for less while moving towards a low carbon future”.
Not everyone agreed with Mr Huhne and during a lively question and answer session several potential ‘losers’ were identified.
A director of a micro energy supplier complained about the recently introduced cap on larger suppliers supplying energy through ‘feed in tariffs’.
Another delegate suggested that poorer families might not benefit as they tended to under heat their homes – homes that should need the most work to bring up to standard and incur greater borrowing.
One audience member questioned if there were sufficient incentives to persuade private householders to retrofit – given the cost, time and nuisance conversion entailed – would there be cash for council tax rebates for example?
Responding Mr Huhne insisted that there would be universal social and economic benefits to the Green Deal and that the only losers would be:
“The Norwegians, the Russians and the Qataris”
As they would see their revenue for gas and oil drop if the UK became more energy efficient.
Mr Huhne also hinted that Chancellor George Osborne would be announcing incentives to encourage take up of the scheme.
After the debate Mr Huhne quickly left the building by a side door without speaking to reporters – which is unusual for the media-savvy former journalist.
It is not known whether he drove himself.
Photo: Matthew Myatt