Brits blame profiteering, Russia and global demand for gas bills crisis, new survey shows

Survey also finds only 13% agreed that removing green levies from bills was the answer to surging fuel costs.

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By George Smeeton

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New polling from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has found the public see energy company profiteering (34%), Russian government reducing gas supplies to Europe (29%) and growing demand around the world (28%) as the key drivers of the gas crisis. Only 18% said the Coronavirus was most to blame and even fewer (13%) believed it was ‘green levies’.

To help solve the energy bills crisis in the short term, only 13% think the best short term solution to the problems created by rising energy bills is to remove green levies. In the longer term, a majority (51%) see decreasing reliance on gas either through more renewables or insulation as the best way forward. Only 9% saw North Sea exploration, and 8% fracking, as the best long-term solution to the gas crisis.

In spite of this, people are still underestimating the bill savings from insulation. More than four in five (81%) of those who expressed a view (55% of the total) underestimate how much lower the average annual heating bill of a well-insulated home compared to a poorly insulated home was. Increasing from a ‘Band D’ home efficiency to ‘Band C’ would save the average household £170 on their annual heating bill with the anticipated price cap rise in April.

More broadly, 73% of Britons support the UK’s net zero target. Backing up assessments by the Office of Budgetary Responsibility and the Treasury that the costs of tackling emissions are outweighed by the impacts of flooding and other climate threats, less than a third (29%) think we “can’t afford” policies to address climate change, whereas more than half (54%) think we can’t afford not to implement these policies.

This plays out in support for key net zero policies with the majority of the public backing core elements of the transition:

  • 73% support (13% oppose) providing zero-interest loans to upgrade the insulation of their homes and minimise energy waste
  • 65% support (20% oppose) government grants of £5,000 for replacing gas boilers with electric heat pumps
  • 54% support (26% oppose) phasing out the sale of new gas boilers and replacing them with electric heat pumps
  • 60% support (22% oppose) government grants for up to 35% of the cost of an electric vehicle (up to £2,500)
  • 53% support (34% oppose) phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles

51% support (33% oppose) providing financial aid to poor and vulnerable countries to help them shift to clean energy and reduce their emissions

The majority (62%) also think that the UK should be one of the most ambitious countries in the world when it comes to addressing climate change “regardless of others”. Only a quarter think we should wait until “bigger countries such as China agree to do so as well”.

Chris Skidmore, MP for Kingswood, said: “Whilst we need Government support for struggling households now, we also need a long-term solutions which protect UK bill payers from future price spikes driven by international volatility including Russian interference. The simple answer is for us to use less gas. This means ramping up support for schemes such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) which will not just be a sticking plaster for today but pay back for years to come by providing energy efficient homes and cheaper bills for fuel poor.

“We also need to boost British renewables to provide clean, home-grown power, building on the legacy of early green levy agreements which drove down the costs to the point where renewables are the cheapest form of new power keeping electricity bills down relative to gas.

“The public recognise the need to move away from fossil fuels and that if we don’t stop adding greenhouse gases to the air by reaching net zero, we can’t stop climate change. Net zero isn’t politics, it’s science.”

Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin, Head of Analysis at ECIU, said: “The public’s finger is clearly on the pulse correctly identifying Russian interference and global gas demand as causes of the current gas crisis while also spotting that gas companies’ profits are rising in line with gas prices. They understand that gas bought in the UK is part of an international market, the price of which is driven by international forces.

“Net zero measures such as insulation and boosting British renewables are saving people money during this gas crisis. Early green levies drove down the costs and everyone now knows that new wind and solar are the cheapest way to make electricity in the UK. On EVs and heat pumps, the public back policies to speed their uptake even though not all will directly benefit from these incentives immediately.”

Analysis of rising gas bills shows that surging global wholesale prices – which quintupled in 2021 – are responsible for the expected 80% hike in gas bills between April 2021 and April 2022. On the other hand, the surcharge on bills for environmental and social levies, such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), has remained roughly stable since 2019 and has fallen in both absolute (-£13) and percentage terms (-3%) between April and October 2021.