The headline on a Western Morning News front page on 17th April 2015 read: ‘Save energy and save the countryside’ plea.

The plea came not from the Green party or Friends of the Earth, as you might imagine, but from the CPRE – the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

 They have produced a report calling on government to invest more in energy efficiency. The alternative, they say, is losing huge swathes of the countryside to wind turbines and solar panels.

The CPRE wants to shift the discussion from increasing supply – whether fracking or wind turbines – to reducing demand. Only that way can the UK meet its internationally agreed energy obligations.

In that, we would be in agreement. Reducing energy demand through having more efficient buildings (both residential and commercial) is easily achievable using technology that has been around for decades: double glazing, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, solid wall insulation, draft excluders. There’s a huge amount that can be done before you go anywhere near rooftop solar panels. Then you can do the solar panels as well. And none of this requires massive lifestyle changes – I said two postings ago (Why is your TV on?) “our society relies on energy usage and WREN has never preached the collapse of civilisation as a means of ‘saving the planet’."

That’s why WREN has so far concentrated on efficiency measures. It has helped 160 households to put in loft and cavity wall insulation and 150 to have solar panels, biomass and heat pumps, with another 15 commercial installations. That’s 2 million kWh of electricity generated and a thousand tonnes of CO2 saved every year. Just in the Wadebridge area. (Plus all that people here have done independently of WREN, as well.)

Looking ahead, we want to ensure that any new wind farms or solar arrays are owned by the communities in which they are built, so that most of the benefits go to the local communities, not to big developers.

Energy efficiency has to come first, or at least a very close second. It seems self-defeating to spend money on solar panels or heat pumps, just to let the heat out through poorly insulated windows, walls and roofs.I’m alongside the CPRE in calling for more investment in energy efficiency.

It’s not just money, though. The rules have to be changed to enable more houses to benefit from the investment. At present, if you have a cavity wall house and a normal loft, you can get free insulation. If you have solid walls and insulate all of them, you get some support. That’s great, but if you have a house that is part old solid walls and part more modern cavity walls, you don’t fall into any of the allowed categories and can’t get any support. There are a lot of houses like that in Wadebridge, indeed all over the country. They need to be insulated too.

I should also mention new housing. It is ridiculous that current standards permit new houses to be built that will require substantial expenditure on heating each year. I was talking to an Exeter councillor at an event recently, who said their social housing was being built to “passive house” standards, meaning it costs about £50 a year to heat it. That’s what I call affordable housing. The building costs are higher, but if you want to invest in energy efficient housing, that’s the way to go.


The writer, Kevin Smith, is the communications director of WREN, but the views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and should not be interpreted as the views of WREN.