Scottish Government urged to deliver on Warm Homes Act promise

Dr Sam Gardner
Dr Sam Gardner

A Warm Homes Act that helps deliver clean, affordable heat to homes must be a priority for the new Scottish Government, according to a group from the third, renewable and academic sectors.

The call follows advice from Scottish Government experts which states an increase in the deployment of district heating “would make a significant contribution to implementation…. of the Scottish Government’s key priorities in carbon reduction, fuel poverty, energy efficiency and economic development”.

The Scottish Government-appointed Special Working Group on Regulation recommends that a clear and stable regulatory environment is crucial to attracting investment, noting the current regulatory framework hasn’t been designed to support the development of the sector or to protect customers.

The Working Group’s report made the following recommendations:

  • Local authorities are each required to develop and publish a strategic plan for developing district heating in their area
  • Local authorities should have the power to require buildings with a significant heat load (as defined in consultation with stakeholders) to connect to a district heating network where such a network can offer heating at a competitive cost.
  • A single set of national technical standards for district heating systems, to be developed by the Scottish Government working with the district heating industry and other stakeholders.
  • Implementation of an appropriate statutory licencing regime for district heating operators in Scotland., which would include service and technical standards and measures to prevent operators exploiting a monopoly position to over-charge customers.’
  • Commenting on the findings, Dr Sam Gardner, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said: “At present less than 4 per cent of Scotland’s heat demand is delivered by renewables, with just 1 per cent by district heating. Independent research suggests this figure needs to jump to 40 per cent by 2030 if we’re to meet our climate targets. That’s why we’re calling on the new Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, to adopt the recommendations from the Government’s expert advisers on district heating in the promised Warm Homes Act.

    “Regulation for district heating has broad stakeholder support and if acted upon will help ensure Scotland reaps the huge benefits investment in renewable heat and district heating infrastructure will bring to the country.”

    David Pearson, director of Glasgow-based Star Renewable Energy, said: “If we look to our Scandinavian neighbours, like Norway, we see that with the right regulation in place, whole towns and cities can benefit from affordable, clean heat through district heating. Scotland is making good progress on renewable electricity, but without the right regulatory framework we’ll lose out on the investment, jobs and economic renewal opportunities that district heating could deliver across Scotland. The requirement is simple: where heat is offered at lower cost as can be achieved from large heatpumps, developers are required to use it. Win-win.”

    Professor Jan Webb, of the University of Edinburgh, added: “Evidence from European countries with much more district heating than we have shows the value of a basic regulatory framework for both investors and customers. The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all use regulation to secure investment in the infrastructure, at a long-term affordable cost of capital, as well as ensuring good standards of practice by operators and fair pricing for customers.”

    Earlier this year the independent Low Carbon Infrastructure Taskforce concluded capital budget should be used to expand district heating networks throughout the country.

    The call for action on district heating schemes was welcomed by the Scottish Greens.

    Mark Ruskell, climate & energy spokesperson and MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: “We must take the opportunity of a Warm Homes Bill to deliver affordable, renewable heat for homes and workplaces. District heating systems are commonplace in other European countries, and Scottish Ministers would do well to target capital investment at such schemes.

    “Scotland needs to catch up quickly if we’re to meet our ambitions for a low-carbon society, tackle fuel poverty and create high quality jobs. Legislating for renewable heat networks goes hand in hand with the need to invest in energy efficient housing so that we reduce demand for heat and electricity in the first place.”

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