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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 09:56 GMT
New drive for energy tax relief
By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News political reporter

Solar panels on a home in California
Campaigners say even basic efficiency measures can help
Climate change targets will not be met if ministers let debate on new power plants obscure the drive for energy efficiency, experts are warning.

The government-funded Energy Saving Trust says new nuclear or large scale renewable plants, whatever their merits, can only affect the long-term.

It wants Gordon Brown to take immediate action by giving council tax rebates to people making homes energy efficient.

The chancellor is delivering his pre-Budget report on Monday.

Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust (EST), said he was hopeful as the Treasury was much more positive than last year about the council tax idea.

He estimates the rebates proposal would cost 100m, but with the government looking set to meet some of its carbon emissions targets there was a "real desire" among ministers to find new ways of making progress.

Missing targets?

The trust wants council tax rebates of between 50 and 90 for people who install efficiency measures in existing homes, such as insulating cavity walls.

It is also calling for stamp duty rebates or bonuses for developers who build energy efficient new homes, although the Treasury appears less keen on that idea.

The government agreed at Kyoto to try to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% by 2010 from 1990 levels.

We want to make sure that government and the review do not lose sight of the importance of energy efficiency
Philip Sellwood
Energy Saving Trust

But it has admitted it is unlikely to meet its own extra target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20%.

Mr Sellwood's best guess is that there will be a 15% cut in emissions by 2010.

He said this year was particularly critical for getting action on tax incentives - "price signals" - for energy efficiency measures.

Energy prices are rising, the government is soon to publish a review of its climate change programme and this week it began its energy review.

Mr Sellwood said: "We want to see government taking action on the things which we can affect now, rather than those things that may have a part to play in years to come."

Households are responsible for about 30% of total UK energy use.

Action now

Energy efficiency was at the heart of the government's energy white paper in 2003 but the new energy review appears to be focused on nuclear power and renewable sources.

Mr Sellwood said he would be disappointed if people looked only at the long-term options rather than immediate measures.

"The only sensible course of action is to re-emphasise the fundamental importance of energy efficiencies because that's what's going to deliver carbon emissions today or tomorrow rather than five, 10 or 15 years time," he said.

Dungeness nuclear power station
The energy review will specifically look at new nuclear options

"We want to make sure that government and the review do not lose sight of the importance of both energy efficiency and mass market renewables (home energy generation)."

His concerns apply not only to the prospect of a new generation of nuclear plants but to large scale hydro plants or offshore wind farms which could take years to build.

Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry this week warned: "It is no good saying we are all going to use less energy because people aren't like that."

Home energy production?

Mr Sellwood said he fundamentally rejected that proposal but admitted his campaign could be a "hard slog" unless measures were made easy for people.

He admitted the public, politicians and government officials can see energy efficiency as marginal in the battle against climate change.

But he argued that since 1970 efficiency measures have contributed almost as much to cuts in carbon dioxide emissions as the entire coal programme and three times as much as nuclear power.

The trust says it is difficult to persuade people to take up energy efficiency measures if they cannot see their impact.

Mr Sellwood said he was pleased some energy companies were now providing bills which gave a more detailed breakdown of how customers were using their energy.

But there still needed to be "two way metering" where people are rewarded for putting energy produced on a small scale in their homes, for example by sonar panels or small hydro generators, into the national grid.

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