Speeches : Scottish Parliament

Energy Efficient Scotland

10 May 2018

The minister set out the Scottish Government’s aspiration this afternoon when he quoted the vision statement from the “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map:

“By 2040 our homes and buildings are warmer, greener and more efficient”.

It is fair to say that every other speaker endorsed that aspiration.

However, we have debated how much warmer and greener and how much more energy efficient our homes should be, and whether we need to wait until 2040.

This is not a new policy area for the Scottish ministers.

Energy efficiency has been a devolved responsibility since 1999, and every Government has pursued the same policy objective of greater energy efficiency.

What is new, ministers would say, is that energy efficiency is now not just a policy objective but a national infrastructure priority.

I think that all members agree that a step change is required, and the designation of energy efficiency as a national priority seems to imply that a step change is to be delivered.

Mr Wheelhouse certainly confirmed a continuing commitment in that regard and further steps that the Government intends to take.

However, in our view, he did not demonstrate that those steps will deliver at a sufficiently greater scale or pace to justify the designation.

The Government’s route map identifies a desirable destination for 20 years from now, it provides a number of milestones along the way, and it confirms the targets for emission reductions that are set out in the climate change plan.

However, as Scottish Renewables said, it contains very little detail on how to achieve those aims.

The route map rightly identifies energy inefficiency as a driver of fuel poverty and rightly commits to earlier milestones in relation to fuel-poor households.

Again, though, there is little detail as to how milestones are to be achieved and how progress is to be defined.

An energy efficiency programme without an ambitious target on fuel poverty is, at best, incomplete.

The Government needs to be clear about what it intends to achieve and by when.

Its consultation last November suggested a target of reducing the proportion of people in fuel poverty to 20 per cent of the population by 2030 and 10 per cent by 2040.

Our amendment urges ministers to be more ambitious about ending fuel poverty and doing so sooner.

As Liam McArthur, Claudia Beamish and Alex Rowley said, it is disappointing that there is no specific recognition in the route map of the particular challenges that are faced by remote rural and island communities, albeit that Paul Wheelhouse acknowledged the challenges early in the debate.

Fuel poverty and energy efficiency are at their highest in the remotest places and are high everywhere that is off the gas grid, where communities do not have access to the affordable and reliable mains gas for heating and cooking that many households in urban Scotland take for granted.

Precisely for that reason, energy companies could and should be encouraged to deploy innovative solutions in rural Scotland that can improve energy efficiency and affordability while reducing carbon emissions.

I acknowledge the minister’s point about the benefits of targets for private rented homes for many rural areas, but an explicit priority for all housing in rural areas would have been widely welcomed.

Innovative things are happening in urban Scotland, as members said.

I am thinking, not least, of the district heating networks that have been established by the Aberdeen Heat and Power Company over the past 15 years, which have reduced energy costs and carbon emissions for many hundreds of households in Aberdeen that used to be in fuel poverty.

The work that ministers are carrying forward separately to further enable district heating is welcome, as are other funding streams that support interventions in other Scottish cities.

All those policy streams can work together, but they need to be joined up, which is where a national infrastructure initiative can help.

A number of speakers commented on the lack of specific proposals for financing or delivering change in the owner-occupied sector.

Indeed, that was highlighted at the outset by Pauline McNeill.

Owner-occupied homes account for three fifths of Scotland’s housing stock and for two thirds of the houses with poor energy efficiency.

Reducing heat waste from 1 million owner-occupied homes cannot simply be left to the market if we want to make a real difference to energy efficiency overall.

It is up to the Government to introduce effective fiscal and financial mechanisms to provide incentives for owner-occupiers and to put milestones in place to measure progress.

The minister said that the right time to think about many of those questions is after 2030.

We believe that that is simply not soon enough.

If energy efficiency is to be treated as being on a par with other national infrastructure priorities such as transport and electricity networks, surely action is required to improve standards across the board.

As Citizens Advice Scotland puts it,

“the National Infrastructure Priority designation ... implies a wider scheme of new support, both financial and in advice provision, for all consumers.”

We acknowledge that the Government’s “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map points in the right direction, but we on the Labour side will continue to call for greater ambition and for the resources to go with it.

Designation as a national infrastructure priority must be about more than words; it also requires action and ambition to back up those words, and that is what we will vote for tonight.