Dear Orkney News,
What is to be done about fuel poverty? To combat it, we clearly need to address all three of its causes: energy inefficient homes, low incomes, and high fuel costs.
But it’s the recent and sudden doubling of electricity prices that has focused our attention on this issue, and especially how we use our electricity at home. Certainly, everyone I know in Orkney is practicing some sort of self-rationing and being careful about what appliances to connect and when – including myself. Many people were already having to choose between heating and eating, inevitably those numbers are only going to rise.
This is simply unacceptable to us Greens. The core of our energy policy is that Scotland’s energy system must be regarded holistically and as a wholly public asset subject to democratic control. This is impossible within the present privatised system, controlled by Westminster, and with a regulator (Ofgem) which doesn’t use its statutory powers to promote renewable energy generation nearly enough as it should. Ironically, Ofgem has traditionally focused on consumer protection and low energy prices – which it is singularly failing to control at present with the escalating fuel prices we’re experiencing.
High fuel costs associated with the present energy crisis are such that we urgently need emergency quick fixes in addition to longer term policy aspirations. ‘Add-on’ costs, including standing charges, could be abolished from electricity bills to reduce bills, and the 5% VAT could also be removed. In the Highlands and Islands, transmission costs could be equalized to save even more – why should households north of Perth pay an extra 2p per unit, especially when so much energy is generated in the area?
One thing is certain: a cost of living crisis precipitated by fuel poverty is a particularly ironic situation for our island community – where we generate more electricity from renewable sources than we actually use – to find itself in. This is a perverse state of affairs, almost a cruel one, and it’s hardly surprising that people object to new renewable projects when they don’t perceive any direct benefit for themselves. With the decision on offshore wind energy proposals around Orkney now imminent (the developer is to be determined this week), how to fix the current mismatch between generation, supply, and users needs to be addressed urgently.
It’s also imperative that future community windfalls from offshore wind around Orkney benefit our communities through funding for sustainable projects to speed our islands to net zero, and this is something that my Green colleagues have been pursuing recently in the Council chamber.
I’d suggest the present system is so broken that it can’t be fixed, and that wholesale re-design, including the transfer of responsibilities for energy supply and regulation to the Scottish Parliament, is the only way forward. Fuel poverty is necessarily interlinked with other types of poverty, and holistic solutions can’t be found by the same system that’s clearly failing us all now. It’s time for an urgent energy re-think.
Yours sincerely Helen Woodsford-Dean, Co-Convenor, Orkney Greens