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The Energy Bill passed the House of Commons yesterday (05 September) after the Government adopted an amendment along similar lines to those tabled by George Eustice MP who sought, with support from the Countryside Alliance, to offer an alternative to the proposed ban on replacement oil boilers from 2026.
Ahead of the debate and after longstanding campaigning based on concerns raised by our members and supporters, the Alliance briefed MPs on a package of amendments that we believed, taken together, would alleviate the disproportionate burden threatening rural communities in the drive to achieve net zero carbon emissions. These include proposals from Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Party MPs and focused on providing affordable low-carbon heating options for homes off the gas grid, and incentivising solar energy generation at home without sacrificing productive agricultural land to large-scale solar farms.
Although the Government did not give ground this time on solar farms, its amendment on renewable heating fuel is encouraging. It empowers Ministers to impose new obligations on fuel companies to increase the supply of renewable heating fuels, which can be used in oil boilers that have undergone relatively inexpensive modification.
Announcing the move, Energy Minister Andrew Bowie MP said:
“…such fuels will have a critical role to play in decarbonising our economy. We recognise that they have the potential to play an important role in decarbonising heat, especially as not all off-grid properties will be suitable for electrification. We will explore the potential of these fuels for heat by issuing a consultation within 12 months. We want to take the powers now to support the use of these fuels in heat in the future, should they be needed.”
The Government, however, has still not responded to its consultation on a proposal to ban installations of oil boilers replacing older models from 2026, despite the consultation having closed in January 2022. It envisaged heat pumps becoming the default heating option for off-grid homes, but as we pointed out – and as the Government has now recognised – these are not suitable for all homes and are frequently unaffordable.
These new powers to promote hydrotreated vegetable oil and the commitment to launch a consultation within a year pave the way for the mooted ban, which has caused such consternation in the countryside, to be dropped or at least modified to allow for better and cheaper alternatives to heat pumps. The Countryside Alliance will continue our work to ensure that the voice of the countryside is heard, and rural homes can access and choose from a range of suitable options for heating.