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CHANGING TIMES

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

Who could be against the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill?

It was given its first reading in Parliament in June last year, has passed relatively unscathed through its second reading and is due to go to committee within the next few weeks.

Introduced by Mark Lazarowicz, Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, it has achieved cross-party support and builds on the Climate Change Early Day Motion introduced by Michael Meacher, the environment minister, in 2003.

Meacher, who, it is alleged, was sacked from his ministerial post for his perverse remarks on the environment, now spends his time on the backbenches arguing that all scientists who defend GM crops are in the pay of the Devil, big corporates or both. The reenergised Bill on the other hand - which now includes sections on energy efficiency - has gone from strength to strength.

The forthcoming Act seeks to combat climate change, which Meacher had called, with typical rhetorical flourish, 'a threat to civilisation'. In a more harmonised, less politically charged world, these seemingly anodyne legislative changes get through on the consensual nod.

To a large extent, the passage of this bill mirrors and reinforces the Energy White Paper and the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (which comes into effect at the beginning of this month, with a further three years until full implementation of all its many clauses). Its main purpose is to increase the mechanisms by which the UK can contribute to 'combating climate change' and hence addresses the regulatory niceties of greenhouse-gas emissions, reductions in fuel poverty and the promotion of renewables and microgeneration strategies.

Early amendments to the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill in mid-2000 'defined' fuel poverty as 'households obliged to spend 20 per cent or more of their (after tax and benefits) income to keep acceptably warm, having regard to such factors as the age and medical condition of the occupants and the external ambient temperatures'.

In the finished Act, this was watered down even further to mean 'a household living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at a reasonable cost'.

In days gone by, this used to be called just 'poverty'.

But I suppose giving people a discount on their paraffin heaters is an easier solution.

And after stating that the Act offers only the 'desirability of alleviating fuel poverty' - with no actual obligation - the term barely gets another look in. But since the principal purpose of the Act is to 'enhance the United Kingdom contribution to combating climate change', I guess the poor shall always be with us.

Clause 4 (1) of the Act mandates an overall target for the take-up of microgeneration.

Thus we shall see more proscriptive legislation - disguising the enabling state subsidy to eco-manufacturers - forcing consumers into buying turbines, solar panels and other implements of responsible energy production.

Those less convinced of the efficacy of the strategy will have no say in the matter.

The irony of all this is that the renewables zealots are now representative of the big business that they would otherwise resent and they have the power on their side. Now energy supply companies must pledge to accept any piecemeal domestically generated power - at market rate - straight back into the grid.

In 2006, look forward to yet more CHP schemes - as a way of generating the warming glow of community to make up for the lack of generated energy.

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