Dear Orkney News,
I see Alistair Carmichael attempting to take credit, along with Beatrice Wishart, for getting UK energy regulator Ofgem to look at the cases of Orkney and Shetland residents who are having trouble switching their electricity suppliers due to the kind of meter they have.
I can only think that the Lib Dem duo pushed at an open door, as Ofgem has been inviting consumers to get in touch with them on this issue via their website since at least early November, having already agreed to extend the Restricted Meter Remedy until 2025.
This remedy is supposed to allow electricity customers to switch to a single rate tariff regardless of the kind of meter they have, including multi-rate tariffs such as Total Heating Total Control. In practice, it isn’t working well and isn’t well known about, and energy advisors across the Highlands and Islands have been attempting to raise its profile over the past few months. The assistance of elected representatives is welcome to this end, as it is vital that this remedy works for electricity customers here, who pay the highest prices in the UK, despite living in an area that generates more clean, green electricity than folk here can use.
Also, while I share Mr Carmichael’s welcome of the expansion of the Warm Home Discount (WHD), a UK government scheme that provides an annual £140 rebate to customers at risk of fuel poverty, I am afraid the scheme falls well short of a solution to fuel poverty. Like emergency electricity vouchers that are currently being dished out to vulnerable consumers, the WHD is a sticking plaster solution from an energy system that isn’t fit for purpose.
A recent report on WHD found that 42% of the rural fuel poor households, which would include Orkney, did not qualify for the £140 payment due to the eligibility criteria. It is also arguable that Orkney electricity customers paying up to 15.31p per unit to heat their homes, compared to folk paying 4p for mains gas,should receive a much higher level of Warm Home Discount to give some kind of parity.
In short – and this is something that our Lib Dem representatives need to recognise – too many of the policies and regulations around our electricity system are reserved to Westminster. In its update to the Climate Change Plan announced earlier in December, the Scottish Government highlights how ‘two of the key levers needed to release Scotland’s further renewable energy potential – electricity policy and regulation – are reserved. This means that achieving our targets critically depends on the UK government taking the right decisions and actions and acting urgently’. It also states that ‘many of the levers needed to ensure a fair distribution of costs and access to smarter energy systems are reserved to the UK’.
On the evidence of Westminster listening to Scottish requests for more powers to be devolved, I won’t hold my breath.
The only effective way to ensure that electricity prices and policy are fair for Orkney folk is to vote for me and the SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections next May. Any other vote is one for prolonged inequity and fuel poverty.
Yours sincerely, Robert Leslie, Orkney