Why are the public being made to pay for excessive corporate energy use?

'As part of concerted, focused drives, France, Germany and Spain, among other states, have brought in measures like maximum heating and cooling levels for shops and offices, bans on night time use of neon shop signs and other excessive lighting'

A photo of coins on top of an article explaining that Energy companies are raising prices

Natalie Bennett is a former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. She now sits in the House of Lords.

Last night the House of Lords rushed through – in two major stages in a single day – the Energy Prices Bill. This is soon to be the law that will keep household energy bills, on average, to a maximum of £2,500 a year, while keeping business and institutional costs to the same unit price, about double that of two years ago.

No one spoke in opposition to the Bill overall – and unlike so many other uncertainties, there seems no doubt that the latest new Conservative Prime Minister, following that ritual visit to the palace we’re now all so familiar with, will continue with this plan.

The pressure of poverty and desperation is clearly overwhelming. Earlier that day Conservative peer Baroness McIntosh of Pickering had been drawing the focus to the leap in the food prices that is another major element of the cost of living crisis, fed in part by the plunging level of the pound. 

But that didn’t mean peers did not try to improve the bill. Votes on three amendments were narrowly lost to the Conservative Party plumped by a steady flow of new peers and a lot of ministerial and office hopefuls with a new prime minister to impress with their zeal.

The group of proposal that attracted the most debate were those on energy efficiency. Lib Dem Lord Foster of Bath, the House’s acknowledged expert on retrofitting, spoke about the need  to cut VAT rating on household and community storage batteries for already installed solar panels – a substantial gap in the government’s belated decision to cut VAT on domestic renewables.

He picked up a point I had made in an earlier debate on the astonishing fact that even the basic efficiency measure of double glazing attracts the fall whack of this tax. Yes, about 86% of houses already have it, but in a high percentage of cases it was fitted long ago, and does not meet modern standards.

I put forward a proposal to give ministers the power to address commercial energy use. As part of concerted, focused drives, FranceGermany and Spain, among other states, have brought in measures like maximum heating and cooling levels for shops and offices, bans on night time use of neon shop signs and other excessive lighting. They have set significant national targets for cutting energy use, unlike the UK.

We are all going to pay – through the government subsidy, and possibly with blackouts – if businesses continue their traditional profligate use of energy.

It may be that a brightly lit shop has a few more sales, but why should we all pay for that? Why should we pay for a brand advertising its presence through a neon sign that also disturbs the sleep of nearby residents?

We didn’t vote on those measures, but an extremely modest proposal from Lib Dem Lord Teverson to have a report on the effectiveness of what energy efficiency measures the government is planning was put forward. But those eager Tory ranks narrowly won out.

So too was the case in the vote on an amendment addressing the way in which oil and gas producers are being benefited by the government’s plans – actively encouraged to invest in new oil and gas production – while new renewable generation is being discouraged.

At the earlier reading of the Bill, I focused on the issue of the treatment of community energy schemes, which should surely not be treated in the same way as the big corporates. That’s something I’ll continue to work with supporters on, to examine ways in which the regulations implementing this bill can provide them with essential protection.

We start again, today, with another new prime minister. The problems created by, and the massive failings of, his predecessors are now his problem. 

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