Energy select committee visits the village at the heart of the industry fuel campaign

The latest development in the UKIFDA and OFTEC led Future Ready Fuel campaign saw the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee pay a visit to Kehelland, in Cornwall, the HVO-fuelled demonstration village that has been at the heart of the drive for support for renewable liquid fuels.

A government select committee in front of an HVO fuelled tanker in Kehelland

Vicky Ford MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Mark Pawsey MP and Barry Gardiner MP met with campaigning fuel distributor Mitchell and Webber, who organised the visit to the Cornish village where it has converted around 30 buildings to HVO as part of a demonstration project, as well as Ken Cronin, CEO UKIFDA and Paul Rose, CEO OFTEC.

The visit was welcomed as an opportunity to further showcase the benefits of renewable fuels. The visiting MPs able to hear first-hand the experience of switching home heating from kerosene to HVO. They were introduced to local residents who have converted to the renewable fuel, and visited the local pub, church and school which have also made the transition.

Kehelland, a small community with a primary school and a Methodist church which also act as a village hall and community hub, is representative of numerous rural villages in Cornwall. Like many others, it is not connected to the gas main, relying instead on kerosene-powered boilers for heating.

The MPs were told of the significant positive impact the fuel has had in the community and had the opportunity to see the fuel delivered by a road tanker which was also running on HVO.

The Kehelland community experience

David and Jane Biggs, who have been using HVO for over two years, spoke with the committee about their experience. They highlighted how the cost of insulating the property to make it suitable for a heat pump could be upward of £70,000. “HVO has allowed us to transition to a cleaner and better fuel without the expense of substantial rebuilding costs of any of the alternatives”, they said.

The government is pushing for properties to transition away from their existing heating systems to install costly new heat pump systems. However, Mitchell & Webber believes that renewable heating fuels containing HVO offer an alternative solution as evidenced by the trials.

The distributor, along with many in the industry, is voicing its support for recent government legislation and discussions in parliament around the alternative fuel, which also saw a private members bill to reduce the duty charged on renewable liquid heating fuel pass.

Only feasible solution

The MPs also visited Kehelland School, the only school in the UK using HVO. The school secretary, on behalf of the headteacher Ellie Watkins, commented that HVO had proved to be a very effective solution. The committee also heard that the school didn’t have the budget to switch to other technologies or the time to manage the disruption this would bring.

“As the only school in the UK using this renewable fuel, we’ve seamlessly operated on HVO for over two years without encountering any issues. Given our budget constraints, introducing other technologies would simply be unfeasible. Moreover, why would we consider changing a system with a remaining lifespan of 20-30 years? While we actively teach our students to contribute to environmental preservation, we can proudly assert that as a school, we are effectively reducing our carbon emissions and practising what we preach.’

Stephen and Nicki Thomas in the village have also been using HVO for over two years. The granite in their property, which was built in the 1800s, combined with no cavity wall insulation means a successful heat pump conversion would be very difficult to achieve.

They explained to the committee many properties were in a similar situation: “We have found that HVO has worked more efficiently with no major changes or upfront costs. For our granite property, any alternative heating solution would be financially prohibitive and too disruptive.”

On demand heating

The Committee also visited the Kehelland Methodist Church to meet Andrew Geake. He demonstrated the heating controls that allowed users of the community hall and chapel to have on demand heating for set amounts of time.

“This renewable fuel can do the same job as heating oil whilst saving nearly 90% CO2 emissions. We have the ability with our boiler system to have on demand heating and to set the minimum time necessary with minimal pre heating”, Andrew said.

Growing pressure

With the committee hearing similar feedback from numerous other residents, pressure on the government to support renewable liquid fuels for home heating grows.

Around 150 oil heated properties across the UK have switched to HVO as part of the industry demonstration project. The project has been a huge success with the industry ready to roll out the fuel more widely.

Despite the government declared ‘electrification-first‘ policy that would see oil heated households switch to heat pumps, the deadline for the ban on the installation of fossil fuel heating systems was pushed back from 2026 to 2035 following pressure from both consumers and cross-party MPs. According to the government’s online calculator, some off-grid properties could face costs of over £20,000 as well as significant disruption to make the switch.

OFTEC and UKIFDA are calling for the government to instead support use of HVO as an alternative.

John and Robert Weedon, of Mitchell and Webber, commented: “We were delighted to host the visit for the Select Committee so they could hear firsthand from the residents about their positive experience switching to HVO. We very much hope that decision makers in government will listen to the messages from the residents, School and Church who represent not just Kehelland, but the majority of properties in rural off grid areas in the UK.

“The property owners have shown that as well as the huge costs to upgrade rural homes to make them suitable for other technologies, they remain unconvinced that technologies such as heat pumps will actually work in a retro situation. It’s clear they are unwilling to take a gamble when they have a perfectly usable and proven system that can decarbonise in a simpler, more cost effective way with a renewable fuel.”

Industry bodies urge the Government to deliver on consultation commitment

The Government’s amendment to the Energy Bill committed to a consultation on a Renewable Liquid Heating Fuel Obligation (RLHFO). After nine months without further progress, OFTEC and UKIFA are urging the government to publish the consultation immediately to provide clarity for consumers.

Ken Cronin, UKIFDA CEO, said: “It was important to showcase how successful decarbonisation can be undertaken in rural areas when you combine a mix of customer choice, trust, cost effectiveness, least amount of disruption and significant buy-in from local communities.

“All of these were on show during the visit and it was great to see the Committee visiting individual homes, but also villagers stopping them in the street to support the renewable liquid fuel initiative.”

Paul Rose, OFTEC CEO, added: “The visit was a really useful session and it was great to see the MP’s spending time directly engaging with the public to understand their specific needs and concerns with regard to low carbon heating. I think it quickly became apparent that peoples’ needs are different and the range of buildings in the village shows that a number of technologies are required if the UK is to achieve net zero heating.”

As the visit concluded, Mitchell and Webber extended an invitation to other energy ministers and officials and is hoping to engage further with the government in a bid to highlight the benefits of HVO.

“We would greatly appreciate further engagement with ministers and officials from the department, and we extend an invitation for them to visit Cornwall.”

The photo is from the visit of the government select committee to Kehelland to learn more about renewable heating fuels containing HVO (Image: Mitchell & Webber)