Tackling fuel poverty – carrot or the stick?

EE conference
Norman Kerr says the Scottish Government could do more to improve the energy efficiency of homes

The debate raged on at the CIH Scotland Energy Efficiency, Fuel Poverty and Renewables event, supported by Forster Energy, as to whether the carrot or the stick is best at lifting Scotland’s households out of fuel poverty.

With official figures showing a staggering 39 per cent of Scotland’s households currently living in fuel poverty and the Scottish Government’s ambitious target to ensure that, as far as is practicable, no one is living in fuel poverty by November 2016, the need to introduce energy efficient measures is of paramount importance.

Angus Macleod outlined the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling the problem using three main tools: informing the industry and tenants about EPC ratings and what this means for their fuel bills; providing incentivised initiatives like HEEPS through their area based, national, cash back and loans schemes; and the introduction of tougher regulations such as Energy Efficiency Standards for Social Housing (EESSH).

The Scottish Government has maintained its commitment to its sustainable housing strategy of improving domestic energy efficiency, tackling fuel poverty and supporting economic growth by increasing spending from £74m in 2013 to £119m in 2015.

The aim is to reduce carbon emissions and move closer to a greener Scotland. The energy efficiency sector has grown rapidly as a result of the regeneration projects conducted by local authorities and RSLs which are fuelling economic growth by supporting jobs and tackling inequality by reducing fuel poverty.

Looking to the future, the Scotland Bill and the future of Energy Company Obligation (ECO) funding will be crucial to maintaining the momentum the housing industry is gathering. Actions within the Joint Housing Delivery Plan will address some aspects of energy efficiency and fuel poverty and a rural fuel poverty task force has been established to address issues such as off grid properties in rural areas were the problem of fuel poverty can be more difficult or expensive to tackle. The Scottish Government also recently announced intentions to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority with plans to secure funding to support work in domestic and non-domestic buildings across Scotland. This should help to facilitate energy efficiency work in buildings with mixed ownership where it can be difficult to get agreement from all owners to carry out improvement works.

Margaret Burgess sais Scotland’s homes have never been more energy efficient
Margaret Burgess sais Scotland’s homes have never been more energy efficient

However, Norman Kerr, who represents industry body Energy Action Scotland (EAS), argued that the Scottish Government isn’t doing enough to tackle the issue, with the UK languishing in 13th place on a league table of fuel poverty in European countries. Comparative figures show just how far Scotland still has to go in terms of tackling fuel poverty and that we are falling significantly short of meeting our 2016 targets.

With consumption of gas and electricity actually falling by 11.3 per cent since 2004 along with increasing standards of technology, new build regulations and investment in retrofit energy efficiency measures, it was no surprise to hear that average energy bills more than doubling in the same space of time was applying the most pressure to the situation.

Looking at the private rented sector in Scotland specifically, a staggering 80 per cent of those in fuel poverty were living in an F-G EPC (energy performance certificate) rated property. With the sector purely incentivised by the carrot, calls for further regulation and the introduction of firmer penalties for non-compliance are getting louder.

EAS were keen to point out that housing and health are inextricably linked with 2,500 Scottish winter deaths per annum directly attributable to substandard housing which is further piling on pressure to our national health service. The need for a joint health and housing task force was in evidence again.

Kenny Saunders from contractor Everwarm and EDF Energy representative David Gray explained the complex range of funding streams available to social housing providers, owners and private landlords and showcased several projects where the HEEPS schemes have been effectively put to use to tackle fuel poverty by reducing the reliance on fuel consumption.

Scotland’s housing & welfare minister Margaret Burgess highlighted the positive progress that has been made in recent years, stating that Scotland’s homes have never been more energy efficient, with over a third of homes now EPC C rated or above. The minister pointed to rising energy prices as the reason 940,000 households in Scotland are in fuel poverty and referred to plans for energy efficiency to be a national infrastructure priority to move to a fairer, more prosperous Scotland.

By a show of hands, Elizabeth Leighton of the Existing Homes Alliance (ExHA) highlighted that awareness, or lack thereof as the case was, around EPCs and the importance of energy efficiency does not often feature very highly in the list of priorities when deciding to move into a new home. She argued that knowledge has to come from the ground up and tenants should be better educated around these issues.

EE forster with Minister
Mrs Burgess meets event sponsors Forster Energy

The afternoon saw delegates split up into a world café format to hear from John Forster, chairman of the Solar Trade Association Scotland on the role of renewables outlining the benefits and staggering potential of solar power in particular. With major advances being made in solar power storage, it is a case of when, not if, solar will be a major answer to fuel poverty in the not so distant future.

Ore Valley Housing Association’s Nick Clark shared their successes in tenant engagement through a refreshingly open and honest approach when planning energy efficiency improvements such as a district heating scheme, biomass plant and wind turbines. With 50 per cent of profits from the latter project going into a community chest it was clear that the carrot was helpful in winning tenants’ support.

Richard Jennings of Castle Rock Edinvar outlined how they gained funding through the local energy challenge fund and other sources to develop innovative local heat storage solutions in pilots covering 1,000 homes across Scotland with aspirations of alleviating fuel poverty on a much larger scale.

Greener Kirkcaldy’s Suzy Goodsir and Home Energy Scotland’s Laura McGadie led the charge that changing tenant behaviour can lead to positive changes and reductions in fuel poverty. The advice services have been making significant gains in increasing affordability by providing people with the right information through the right channel at the right time improving effectiveness.

Chair Norman Kerr of EAS summed up the day by reiterating the minister’s comments that homes in Scotland have never been more energy efficient but that the housing industry could be doing a lot more still. With about 25 per cent of housing stock socially rented, the onus is on RSLs and local authorities to lead the charge in battling fuel poverty by engaging with tenants and utilising the funding available to them.





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