More wind power, nuclear and £5,000 to swap out your boiler: Boris Johnson’s plan for net zero

Boris Johnson will promise to quadruple Britain’s production of off-shore wind power, invest heavily in nuclear power, and announce plans for £5,000 grants for people who swap out their old gas boilers, in his net zero strategy, which will be published on Tuesday.

The prime minster has set a target for Britain to hit net zero – which is when we no longer emit more greenhouse gases than the earth takes back in – by 2050.

But to get there involves major changes, some of which could hit consumers in the pocket.

One big change is to encourage people to opt for heat pumps instead of gas boilers when they change equipment – but they currently cost around £10,000, so even with a grant would be hugely expensive.

However, sources say they are not forcing people to act, with companies like Octopus Energy predicting the cost of the pumps could be cut in half within a few years.

Another change involves shifting levies that are currently placed on electricity bills to gas bills, but given the current energy crisis, that move is likely to be slower than originally planned – a consultation launching in the spring will consider the impact on people’s cost of living squeeze.

Some Tory MPs are worried that the changes will hit their constituents at a difficult time.

Harlow MP, Rob Halfon, told ITV News that his voters cherished the planet but were also feeling the squeeze with rising energy bills and new taxes, warning, “you can’t balance environmentalism on the backs of working people”.

'My constituents care about the environment but they are also worried about living costs - Tory MP Robert Halfon on the net zero strategy:

Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee that advises government on how to get to net zero, told ITV News that changes could be made in a way that was “just” to society - urging the Treasury to act to protect the poorest.

Sources said that one thing ministers won’t do is lecture people on how they live their lives, saying they wouldn’t be telling families to eat less meat, go on fewer holidays or switch their cars for cycles. On that Lord Deben said ministers didn’t want to be “dictatorial” but argued they needed to make it easier for people to make more environmentally friendly choices.

As part of the strategy launch, the prime minister will attempt to draw in billions of pounds of private investment, much of which will go towards green technology.

In wind power, sources suggested that the aim to quadruple production could be pushed even further, with hopes to increase it by six times, and then raise it tenfold by 2050 when the net zero target is meant to be hit.

Martin Lawlor, chief executive of the Port of Blyth, where new wind power is being developed, told ITV News that the expansion was the equivalent of putting in a new turbine the size of Big Ben every day for this entire decade.

He said Britain was in the “Premier League” for capacity in wind, but in the “lower leagues” in terms of boosting the British economy because so much of the equipment used by the industry is produced abroad.

Ministers have a target of 60% being produced in Britain.

Other changes in the net zero strategy will include a big push on new nuclear – as a key source of energy to back-up renewables, like wind but also solar and tidal, which are not always reliable.

Investment is likely to go into a major new nuclear plant – Sizewell C - in Suffolk, while money has also gone to Rolls Royce to develop small reactors that can provide energy to single cities.

'We will lose animals and we lose trees and we lose a great deal of the planet we have' - Lord Deben on what could happen if net zero is not achieved:

There are also hopes to develop hydrogen as a major replacement for oil and gas.

There will also be an expansion of charging infrastructure to ensure it gets easier to own and run electric cars, with plugs eventually available on lampposts and vehicles that can travel much further on a single charge.

The promise to move to net zero is a key message for Boris Johnson’s government ahead of the critical climate summit in Glasgow, COP26.

However, campaigners say the government needs to do more to show it is committed to the switch away from fossil fuels.

So far ministers have yet to rule out allowing a new coalmine to be built in Cumbria and new drilling permits at the Cambo oil and gas field in the North Sea, leading green groups like Greenpeace to accuse ministers of hypocrisy.