Green energy package unveiled

The UK government has unveiled long-term plans for "green" makeovers of hundreds of thousands of homes a year to slash carbon emissions.

Officials said the package of measures to roll out insulation and low-carbon technology such as solar panels to seven million homes by 2020 would help homeowners who take up the scheme to cut their bills.

Concerns have been raised that the package, which includes a levy on fossil fuels, will see millions of families facing an increase in heating bills to pay for the expansion in green energy.

Under the proposals, finance packages would be offered to householders to install energy efficiency measures and low-carbon heating technology - with repayments paid for by savings on energy bills.

There would also be guaranteed cash payments for homeowners who generate their own heat energy through technology such as solar panels, biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps, funded through a levy on fossil fuel energy supplies.

But there are concerns that these costs could be passed on to consumers in their bills.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said the measures would have a "negligible impact on bills" and there would be "benefits across the board".

He said the levy, the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI), intended for introduction in 2011, would not affect today's household bills.

He said: "We have to consult on how it will work and, in fact, our proposals would have little impact on prices for many years, apart from cutting billing for those who take up the offer of help.

"If we are going to protect consumers from the rapid increases in energy prices, this is how it is going to happen, by improving energy efficiency and improving energy security."

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said: "We need to move from incremental steps forward on household energy efficiency to a comprehensive national plan - the Great British refurb.

"We know the scale of the challenge: wasted energy is costing families on average £300 a year, and more than a quarter of all our emissions are from our homes.

"Energy efficiency and low-carbon energy are the fairest routes to curbing emissions, saving money for families, improving our energy security and insulating us from volatile fossil fuel prices."

The proposals, which will now be put out to consultation, aim to cut emissions from households to almost nothing by 2050, with CO2 reduced by a third on 2006 levels by 2020.

The government said homeowners would receive home energy audits, and help with installing low-carbon technology, smart meters and insulation in roofs and walls.

Housing Minister Margaret Beckett said: "We don't only need more housing, we need better quality housing as well.

"These proposals can ensure that a more sustainable lifestyle is available to everyone, not just a luxury for those with the money to invest in the latest green gadgets."

Alongside the long-term "Great British Refurb", which would see 400,000 homes helped to save energy and cut carbon each year, programmes including the existing carbon emissions reductions target (Cert) will aim to improve energy efficiency in the short term.

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