Heat pump civil servants accused of undermining Rishi Sunaks net zero reset

Civil servants have been accused of trying to undermine the Prime Minister’s resetting of net zero policies around heat pumps and clean energy.

The Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA), a trade association which lobbies for the gas industry, has claimed civil servants in the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) are working against Rishi Sunak’s bid to reset Britain’s approach to cutting fossil fuels.

It also claimed details outlined in the PM’s net zero speech last week are unravelling with the not-for-profit urging No.10 and DESNZ to pull together.

The lobby group pointed to an email sent by DESNZ to the heating industry hours after the PM’s net zero speech as evidence of a difference in approach. Express.co.uk has seen a copy of the email.

In it, officials outline their continued approach to encouraging households to have heat pumps installed and to keep what the EUA describes as “unrealistic targets” for installations.

The email also includes a commitment to the Clean Heat Market Mechanism (CHMM), which the EUA claims will add hundreds of pounds to the cost of a new boiler.

CHMM aims to incentivise the market to increase the number of heat pumps installed in existing properties each year in order to boost investment and innovation.

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The email adds that the Government also remains committed to deploying 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.

Mike Foster, Chief Executive of the EUA and a former Labour MP, said: “The Prime Minister’s net zero reset is unravelling fast.

“He told the country that households did not need to fit a heat pump instead of a gas boiler until 2035, but Whitehall officials have directly contradicted this by insisting that 600,000 heat pumps are fitted a year by 2028. That’s one in three homes. Which is it, Prime Minister?”

Mr Foster claimed: “The CHMM threatens to fine boiler manufacturers £340million next year if they fail to fit 68,000 heat pumps.

“The following year fine will be over £500m. It is expected boiler manufacturers will increase the price of a boiler to pay for the fine or ‘boiler tax’ as it has been dubbed.”

He added: “I want to believe the Prime Minister is genuine in his intent but the briefing from officials suggests his statement was all spin and not for real.

“He can prove he genuinely believes what he said by scrapping the CHMM and not imposing a further boiler tax on heating our own homes.”

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A DESNZ spokesperson said: “We wholeheartedly reject these unfounded claims and are delivering net zero in a proportionate and pragmatic way that doesn’t put undue burdens on families.

“The Government remains committed to our ambition of 600,000 heat pumps a year installed by 2028, backed by a 50 percent increase in the Boiler Upgrade Grant announced by the Prime Minister – making it one of the most generous support schemes of its kind in Europe. 

“In addition, the Clean Heat Market Mechanism provides industry with the certainty and incentive to invest in the technology.”

Mr Sunak said in his speech that a grant available under the boiler upgrade scheme for households installing air source heat pumps will be increased from £5,000 to £7,500.

Experts have challenged the EUA’s claims and figures, noting the Government has made the policy direction clear. Express.co.uk understands there were discussions between Downing Street and DESNZ prior to the PM’s speech.

Heating expert, Dr Richard Lowes, from Exeter University, said the good news for consumers is heat pumps will be as cheap as gas boilers as a result of Mr Sunak’s boost to the Boiler Upgrade Grant.

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He said: “Last week the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of heat pumps for reducing gas imports and emissions, but has slowed down the roll out.”

The heating expert, who is a senior associate at the Regulatory Assistance Project, added: “It’s a step backwards, but the emphasis on their role for reducing emissions and gas imports was obvious.

“The good news for consumers is the Government has basically made heat pumps as cheap as gas boilers now with the increase in the grant.”

Dr Lowes also cast doubt on Mr Foster’s claim that one in three homes will have to have heat pumps installed by 2028.

He said the 600,000 total would include new builds, which typically make up about 200,000 homes in a year.

Dr Lowes said: “There’s a history of the gas industry trying to stop the roll out of clean energy, including heat pumps, which threaten their existence.”

In his speech, Mr Sunak suggested the ambition to phase out the installation of new gas boilers by 2035 would be weakened.

Mr Foster claimed the Government plans to tax the cost of a new boiler to make them more expensive with the downside being that those who can’t afford a heat pump will have to pay more to buy a boiler.

But Mr Sunak said in his speech the Government will not force anyone to rip out their existing boiler for a heat pump and a new exemption would be applied for low income households “so that they will never have to switch at all”.

He also said the ban on installing new oil and liquid petroleum gas boilers and new coal heating in homes which are off the gas grid will be delayed from the current deadline of 2026 to 2035.

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