Dave Sowden speech to the Sustainable Energy Association Launch Reception
My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, first let me thank our host, Martin Caton MP, Baroness Maddock our President, the Secretary of State, our members and guests here tonight, Donald for putting up with me for the last four years, and Bill for taking on the challenge of doing so for at least the next two!
It has been an exciting few months. Just over a year ago our Executive Committee asked me to consider future of what was then the Micropower Council. In particular the market had changed to define energy efficiency and low carbon or renewable energy production in buildings as an increasingly integrated market that requires better joining up of Government policy, and therefore more coherent industry representation.
I believe it is vital in representing the industry to ensure we keep the members firmly in charge and calling the shots. This is endemic in our policy development process but during the past six months it has been brought into even sharper focus thanks to the substantial efforts of our Executive members in reshaping the organisation. I thank them for their tireless work in the large number of informal discussions, project board meetings, Executive Committee meetings and other engagements that have brought us to this point. Members of our Executive are true thought-leaders on the demand-side of the energy industry, always at the forefront of policy making and always putting in that extra effort that helps to build the market for the future. Their support for my team in crafting arguments to Government and the political world ensures we have a foundation of deep knowledge of the commercial reality of running businesses in a policy-driven environment. Ultimately, the success of these businesses will be the main vehicle for providing our buildings with affordable, secure and low carbon energy long into the future. I am proud to play a small part in helping them to be in the vanguard of shaping future policy in the markets where it matters.
I would also like to thank you, Secretary of State, your fellow Minister Greg Barker, and your civil servants and Special Advisers in DECC. We don’t always see eye to eye on detail but we do enjoy a rich and vibrant dialogue right across the policy spectrum where we do feel the industry’s perspective is at least given a fair hearing. Sadly that is not the case across all other Government departments, and I will touch on that in a moment. And last but by no means least, I would like to thank my team for their hard work, attention to detail and highly professional approach in getting us to this point.
We have a very simple message. It is a message that we know you and Greg Barker both understand, Secretary of State, as do many of your civil servants. It is a cost of living story, an affordable energy story, a localist, citizen-empowering, fuel-poverty relieving, decarbonising, renewables-boosting, smarter energy system promoting, and yes, a green story (even if that word may have started to slip out of fashion in some political quarters).
And it is this:
That the things we can do in buildings are generally more affordable, more secure and lower carbon than many of the future, supply-side, large-scale solutions at the country’s disposal. When I spoke in this very room at Christmas I said something similar. We have now built on this, crunched lots of numbers and each of you will have received our info-graphic (all based on the Government’s own, published figures) illustrating this on your way in tonight. This marks the start of our campaign to repopulate understanding of this key message right across the political spectrum, and in other parts of Government – especially in numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, regardless of who occupies them!
Whilst parts of DECC understand this key messages, other Government departments do not. In particular just about everything the Department for Communities and Local Government has said in the past two years has damaged market and investor confidence in our sector. The recent watering down of the proposed Building Regulation changes, and the proposed repeal of the Planning and Energy Act are particularly damaging. Secretary of State, this is serious stuff. Mr Pickles’ obsession with the deregulation mantra is costing jobs, damaging UK competitiveness and adding cost to fuel bills. He’s justifying this using flawed analysis of incorrect numbers, and this is not well understood elsewhere in Government.
We have an incredibly busy year of policy development ahead of us; I won’t go into all the details here as we cover this extensively in our daily dialogue with Government and our members. We have exciting ideas on pressing home the merits of a step change in attention for the demand side, and for how we might engage the humble heating installer in doing this so I would encourage all of you to talk to my team about these to learn more.
I want to close by highlighting the importance of the next year as we head towards the next General Election. Energy has already been defined as a key political issue for the next election. From our industry’s perspective, this is not particularly good news. As an example, the changes to ECO announced last autumn were hasty politics and bad for confidence, and we don’t want any part of our industry used as a political football.
As we approach the election, each of the main political parties is seeking to persuade voters that its approach to tackling rising bills is better than the others. In turn, it is vital that this does not create further uncertainty for those seeking to strike commercial deals or cause any further deterioration in investor confidence.
Earlier today we held an open event taking a forward look at the election and its possible impacts. I would particularly like to thank James Murray, the editor of BusinessGreen, for chairing the event, Baroness Worthington, for giving us the Opposition front bench’s perspective, and to our four industry speakers for bringing into sharp focus the perspective of industry leaders faced with the uncertainty presented by the forthcoming election.
The key message emerging from this session was the need for all political parties to commit to a long-term and consistent energy policy position with energy efficiency and low carbon or renewable production from buildings right at the heart of every General Election Manifesto.
Today’s launch of the Sustainable Energy Association has been welcomed by the Prime Minister, who has said:
“I applaud the launch of the Sustainable Energy Association and its plans to promote energy saving solutions in the UK. The Association’s mission – to develop cost effective and innovative ways for people and communities to reduce energy consumption – is a welcome contribution to our long-term economic plan. It will help families secure lower fuel bills, improve the UK’s energy security and reduce the UK’s emissions. This comes with my very best wishes for the Association’s future success.”
This is a ringing endorsement of the strong narrative we have developed, and we hope such endorsement from the highest level in Government marks a turning point for this industry getting its message across, and leading to a step-change in policy making. Low carbon, affordable and secure energy needs first to be about building level technologies, complemented by the more expensive large-scale supply-side solution, and NOT the other way around. We know YOU understand this, Secretary of State, and we want to work with you to get the rest of the Cabinet and the policies of other political parties to your level of understanding so the right combination of industry initiatives and predictable policy can come together to get this important job done, regardless of the outcome of the next election.