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Election 2021: Inverness and Nairn Holyrood candidates tell us how they would tackle the long-term issue of fuel poverty affecting the region leaving many choosing between eating or heating

By Scott Maclennan

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A wind farm near Moy.
A wind farm near Moy.

In the final edition of our series asking the candidates about the key issues affecting the north ahead of Thursday's election to the Scottish Parliament we hear how each of the Holyrood hopefuls would tackle fuel poverty in the Highlands.

Tensions over new on-shore wind turbines across the north, including in the Great Glen, have been mounting in recent years. The region produces a huge volume of renewable energy but locals have been over-charges as it is reimported at greater cost.

On top of that, prevailing weather conditions mean the region is generally colder so the need to switch on the heating is higher while being more expensive despite so much of that power being generated within a stone's throw of many households.

Ariane Burgess, Greens Candidate
Ariane Burgess, Greens Candidate

Ariane Burgess, Greens Candidate

Everyone in Scotland should have a warm and affordable home that they can afford to heat. This may seem simple, but it is becoming harder for so many people in Inverness and beyond. Even before the pandemic far too many people were having to choose between heating and eating, and the last 12 months have made it worse.

The Scottish Greens will put warm homes right at the heart of our recovery, with a £500 million per year national home upgrade fund. We will ensure that all homes reach a minimum Energy Performance Standard of C or above by 2030. This would have the triple impact of creating thousands of new jobs while benefitting our environment and reducing household energy costs by an average of £270 per year.

We can push bills down further by encouraging community ownership of new wind farms and requiring discounts for communities who have major developments on their doorsteps.

Looking to the future we would aim for new homes to have a carbon neutral footprint from 2022 and home heating to be zero-carbon by 2040. One way we would do this is by introducing green heat grants for households to replace fossil fuel boilers with green alternatives, with the aim of installing 500,000 by 2030 whilst ensuring that families are paying no more than they would for a new gas boiler.

But fuel poverty cannot be divorced from wider questions, especially here in the Highlands where the cost of housing is increasing at the same time as we are seeing depopulation, particularly in our rural communities. We will introduce a cross-cutting goal of ensuring that housing costs represent no more than 25% of a household’s income.

If we want our young people to stay then we need to tackle the big issues of housing, land, tenants rights, the cost of living and local jobs. If you elect me on Thursday then these will be my priorities.

Fergus Ewing, SNP Candidate
Fergus Ewing, SNP Candidate

Fergus Ewing, SNP Candidate

With more people staying at home, households could see a big surge in energy bills.

Though energy prices are reserved to the UK Government, we can put forward mitigation measures to support and help Highlanders deal with high energy bills.

The SNP Government has already started to take steps in this and one thing that was introduced last winter, was the Child Winter Heating Assistance – a new £200 payment to help families of severely disabled children. By the end of 2021 will have allocated over £1 billion since 2009 to tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency.

Cold Weather Payments of £25 are too restrictive and pay out too infrequently. We will replace them with a new £50 Winter Heating Payment paid annually to those low-income households currently eligible for the UK Cold Weather Payments. This will support 400,000 households, giving low-income households guaranteed support with energy bills.

More sustainable sources of energy have emerged in recent years which will help us tackle the global climate emergency that we are facing and to help achieve this we must reduce the emissions associated with heating our homes and businesses

In 2019 I made my fifth appearance speaking at the Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference in Inverness. It was a privilege to attend and we heard from a variety of excellent speakers on how much has been achieved in the Highlands and Islands in this sector. In one sense this is simply using our natural assets for all our benefit.

The wind in the hills, the tide in the sea, and the power of water and rainfall from our lochs, are all drivers of renewables and if elected, I will remain committed to supporting this industry.

Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour Candidate
Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour Candidate

Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour Candidate

Fuel poverty has a strong association with income and households with less money coming in have the highest rates of fuel poverty.

In Scotland it is estimated that 613,000 people are affected and, of those, about half would be classed as in extreme fuel poverty.

What does make my blood boil is when I am contacted by the elderly or low income families who cannot afford their high energy bills and are having a choice between buying food or paying their fuel bill.

Although many electricity companies in particular say they help people in this position, there are still cases where people are having sleepless nights because the cost of keeping warm is just too high a price to pay.

Scottish Labour’s Climate Recovery Plan not only sets out measures to achieve net zero emissions by 2045 and create thousands of green jobs, it includes upgrading all homes to at least an energy efficiency rating of C or higher by 2030.

In addition to reducing wasted energy when heating homes, this would help end fuel poverty, save Scots up to thousands of pounds a year on their heating bills, and create 7,500 jobs.

Measures include establishing a National Housing Agency to coordinate the roll out of insulation, double glazing, boiler replacement and renewable heat; doubling the number of homes renovated annually to 80,000; and providing grants to low and middle income households, while providing interest free loans to others to pay for upgrades up to £18,000, targeting fuel poor and rural homes first.

When it comes to rural homes, those who cannot get access to gas heating will be some of the first to be targeted with alternative green energy systems.

We live in a region which is colder for longer in the winter and spring months and we should find a solution for banishing fuel poverty once and for all.

Dr David Gregg, Scottish Liberal Democrat Candidate
Dr David Gregg, Scottish Liberal Democrat Candidate

Dr David Gregg, Scottish Liberal Democrat Candidate

Both the Scottish and UK governments should hang their heads in shame when they look at Highland fuel poverty figures. 1 in 3 Highlanders are in fuel poverty, with 1 in 5 in extreme poverty. In one of the coldest parts of the UK, people are having to choose between heating and eating. This is not right.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats would double fuel poverty budgets. We would create 34,000 new jobs by offering full insulation to every home. We would cut 75% of energy usage in new homes by adopting the Passivhaus standard. Combined with our housing plans, this would mean a supply of cheap, green homes for the next generation of Highlanders.

We would develop a low carbon heating programme, aiming to improve 80,000 homes a year. We would switch a million homes from mains gas to heat pumps by 2030. Both would save Highlanders’ money and save the planet by reducing carbon.

The SNP's current fuel poverty strategy is so unambitious it would take until 2040 and leave 1 in 20 households in fuel poverty. In Holyrood, they have delayed bringing in energy efficiency regulations for landlords. This means many tenants have spent the Covid pandemic living in homes with higher fuel costs than they need to. We would bring these regulations in, putting money back in renters’ pockets as should have happened already.

Renewable energy is key to beating climate change. The Highlands does more than its fair share in producing it. But too often, communities do not see the benefits from their local renewable energy schemes. We would improve the Community Wind Benefit scheme to make sure profits go back into local communities. The more communities feel the benefits of going green, the more they are incentivised to get even greener.

Andrew MacDonald, Restore Scotland Candidate
Andrew MacDonald, Restore Scotland Candidate

Andrew MacDonald, Restore Scotland Candidate

Just one of the iniquitous situations that Scotland has had to bear from the impotence of our puny representation in Westminster.

Only full Independence would provide Scotland with the levers to rationalise the distribution of energy generated within our country and offshore and an end to the nonsense of paying more to import our own energy.

Limited expansion of hydro power and other sustainable energy sources would be a priority for Restore Scotland and a tariff structure that favoured home consumption and fair export rates would be an early introduction to our programme.

Edward Mountain, Scottish Conservative Candidate
Edward Mountain, Scottish Conservative Candidate

Edward Mountain, Scottish Conservative Candidate

The high rate of fuel poverty continues to be a national scandal. The SNP Government was meant to eliminate fuel poverty from Scotland by 2016 but has failed miserably to reach that target.

Five years on and the Highlands and Islands region has the highest rates of fuel poverty in Scotland. That’s simply unacceptable.

Every Highlander deserves to live in a warm home and action must be taken to help alleviate the costs of energy.

A long-term solution is improving our energy connectivity and finding ways to link more of the Highlands to the National Grid. If we can reduce the number of homes that are off grid, then more people can take advantage of cheaper energy tariffs.

Everyone will agree that serious progress needs to be made and the next Scottish Government has to be open and willing to cooperate with its UK counterpart to achieve that.

We must also ensure that Highland homes become more energy efficient. The Scottish Conservatives amended the recent Fuel Poverty Act so that the next Scottish Government will have to support all fuel-poor households to reach EPC C by 2030.

The Scottish Conservatives will set aside £2.5 billion to achieve that aim, including a specific Rural Transition Fund to support energy efficiency in off grid areas.

It is vital that these schemes focus on improving actual energy performance to help Highlanders save money and reduce their energy consumption. Grants to install better insulation and modern combi-boilers will make a huge difference.

The SNP have wasted years neglecting the problem of fuel poverty. Only the Scottish Conservatives have the ambitious policies to resolve this issue.

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