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Ed Miliband: ‘Britain’s heat pump take-up is absolutely miserable’

Ed Miliband
The shadow energy secretary says the Tories' onshore wind turbine ban is 'deeply unfair' - David Levenson/Getty Images

Ed Miliband has committed to scrapping a ban on building new onshore wind farms if Labour claims victory at the general election.

The shadow energy secretary pledged a Labour government will overturn planning rules that currently require local community support to approve proposed turbines.

If he wins office he plans to use a ministerial “written statement” to remove an obligation in the national planning policy framework for community concerns to be “appropriately addressed”, a stipulation that has effectively blocked onshore wind projects for a decade.

The onshore wind ban was introduced by then-prime minister Lord Cameron in 2015, who was so worried by the backlash from Nimbys over a rash of planned wind farms that he gave local communities across England the right to block them.

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“The onshore wind ban was a deeply unfair measure… and we want to lift it,” Mr Miliband told the Telegraph. “At the moment, it’s easier to build an incinerator than it is to build an onshore wind development.”

Those plans are certain to generate a backlash, as they already have in Wales where the Labour government has created zones called “pre‑assessed areas for wind energy”.

Mr Miliband said: “People have different views on the onshore wind ban but we’re going to lift it.

“According to the Resolution Foundation, it [the ban] has cost poorer households six times more as a proportion of their income than middle-class households. And we’re going to get the fairness thing right.”

The zoning system in Wales means vast tracts of countryside have been deemed suitable for wind farms, whatever locals might think.

That has prompted a surge in planning applications for giant wind turbines up to 800ft tall, two to three times larger than any yet built in the principality.

Protest groups have sprung up everywhere from Anglesey in the north to Powys in the south. Similar battles are being fought across the Scottish highlands against both turbines and electricity pylons.

Mr Miliband said it is too soon to say whether a similar zoning system for England will be introduced, but even with the current ban revoked there will still be checks and balances.

“We want a proper fair community consent process,” he said. “We’ll obviously want to work with local authorities on this but we do want to lift this ban.”

Onshore wind turbines are just one means by which Labour hopes to decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply by 2030.

At the heart of that task is a single key challenge – breaking the link between power generation and the burning of gas. Mr Miliband said this may be the key metric on which he could eventually be judged.

The UK is currently hooked on gas, accounting for 38pc of total energy supplies, with around 75bn cubic metres consumed every year. That’s equivalent to 1,100 cubic metres per person, roughly the volume of 14 double decker buses.

A third of that gas, around 25bn to 30bn cubic metres, is burned in power stations to keep our lights on. Replacing that high carbon electricity with green power is what Mr Miliband’s potential time in office will be largely about.

But why has he set a target of 2030 - a colossal task that many experts deem impossible? Why not stick to 2035 – a target set by the current government with wide agreement from the power industry?

“The electricity part of it [net zero] is really important,” Mr Miliband said. “A clean power system is the linchpin of the road to decarbonisation.

“We haven’t just selected 2030 for clean power because we think it’s achievable. We do think it is achievable, but also because it will be the bedrock of the drive to net zero … 2030 is a crucial staging post on that road.”

A major increase in demand for electricity is expected in the coming years as the nation switches to electric vehicles, electric heating via heat pumps and the electrification of industry.

Mr Miliband said if that electricity were still being generated by burning gas it would render the exercise fairly pointless – so decarbonising the grid is Labour’s priority.

He suggested that breaking the UK’s reliance on gas will bring other benefits, particularly around energy security.

“The case for clean energy is now also a case for energy independence, energy security and lower bills,” Mr Miliband said. “That was graphically and tragically demonstrated by the invasion of Ukraine, where we were in the grip of Vladimir Putin.

“That’s because gas is traded on the international market and, whether it was our own or imported, we faced this terrible price shock for which British people are still paying the price. And the Office of Budget Responsibility has warned this could happen again.”

Breaking Britain’s reliance on gas will go way beyond just decarbonising the grid – and perhaps the most difficult challenge of all is yet to come.

Britain’s power is generated mostly by industry, whether it be wind farms, nuclear power stations or gas. The UK has 35 or so large gas-fired power stations, so changes can be imposed relatively easily.

However, almost all of the heat generated to keep homes and businesses warm comes from the gas boilers fitted into 25 million homes, or the oil-powered systems fitted into a further one million to two million buildings.

How will Labour persuade us to replace those fossil fuel appliances with expensive heat pumps?

Mr Miliband said: “On home heating – as we said in our manifesto – no one’s going to be forced to rip out their boiler. We’re absolutely clear about that. We haven’t stuck with the Government’s 2035 target when you can’t replace your gas boiler. I know that we’ve got to show that heat pumps are affordable and are going to work for people.

“Now for lots of people, including me, heat pumps are already working. I’ve got a heat pump and a battery… But it’s got to work economically for everyone. We’ve gone through a cost of living crisis, we’re still going through a cost of living crisis.

“So we cannot do this in a way that means ordinary people end up paying more for this. And that’s what our government, if we’re in power, is going to be absolutely focused on.”

Dropping the Conservative Government’s planned 2035 ban on most new boilers is quite a shift in policy. But Mr Miliband said that voters will never be persuaded by sticks – meaning bans and bigger installation bills – so he wants to offer them carrots.

He added: “I’ll be honest, I think one good thing the current government did, among a number of bad things, was to increase the heat pump grant to £7,500.”

Replacing gas boilers with heat pumps costs an average of £10,000 to £12,000, with a replacement boiler typically costing £2,000 to £3,000. That rules heat pumps out for most people.

The Government’s boiler upgrade scheme offers some households £7,500 in subsidies, but the budget is capped at £450m, enough for just 90,000 homes.

Mr Miliband said: “Our heat pump take-up is absolutely miserable in comparison to other countries. We want to make it economically worthwhile for people, working with the private sector, to actually install heat pumps.

“It’s got to work economically for people.

“My message to Telegraph readers, if I can be so bold, is support clean energy, not just because it’s the right thing for the climate, but because it’s the right thing for energy security, for lower bills and for jobs.

“Clean energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels, and more secure – because dictators can’t control it.”