- 82,000 rural households (19%) rely on electric heating
- 170,000 rural households (40%) use alternative fuels, such as heating oil, LPG, biomass and coal.
Robert Leslie, SNP candidate for Orkney and Shetland has challenged Tories and other opposition politicians in Scotland to get behind calls by Scotland’s energy minister for a ‘gas equivalent’ social tariff for rural and island communities, which have been hit hard by energy price hikes.
Mr Leslie welcomed the move by Gillian Martin, Minister for Energy and the Environment in the Scottish Government, which recognises the unique challenges faced by areas such as Orkney and Shetland, with no access to cheaper mains gas, and with electricity currently around four times more expensive per unit. It is an inequity that makes heating homes unsustainably expensive for an increasing number of residents.
The Minister wrote last week to Amanda Solloway, UK Tory Minister for Energy Consumers and Affordability, calling for a fairer tariff for electricity as part of urgent action to support domestic and non-domestic energy customers.
Robert Leslie said:
“I look forward to seeing them get behind this campaign for fairer energy prices for households in Orkney, Shetland and many other island and rural areas across Scotland.
“We have a situation where the Scottish Government has put a record £30 million into a Fuel Insecurity Fund to help households across the country keep the heat on through programmes such as the Home Heating Support Fund, and a Social Housing Fuel Support Fund.
“This support has been key in paying off rocketing levels of energy debt being built up by households in Orkney and Shetland in the face of electricity prices that remain twice has high as they were a couple of years ago. Credit that used to build up on electricity accounts over the summer has long disappeared and instead we see significant levels of energy debt.
“Latest figures show that over £134,000 of Home Heating Support Fund awards have been made in Orkney since it was launched in 2020, with 41 recipients over the past year being awarded an average of over £900. This helps pay off energy debt and give folk breathing space to deal with other debt, as energy debt rarely comes alone. I know that Shetland households have received similar crucial support from this fund.
“In these ways, and by increasing levels of energy efficiency funding to help households keep the heat in, the Scottish Government is mitigating for the energy price crisis as effectively as it can. But the truth is that energy price hikes — and especially electricity — are what is driving this crisis, and only the Tories at Westminster can make the changes to ease the unsustainable pressures being faced by households in Orkney and Shetland this winter.”
In her letter, Gillian Martin explained that rural and island communities “continue to face significant and unique challenges in comparison to those living in more central areas of Scotland.”
And she continued:
“It is absolutely critical that these challenges are taken into consideration when decisions are being made on any future targeted support for consumers living in rural and remote areas who are struggling with their energy bills.
“In Scotland, there are 82,000 rural households (19%) that rely on electric heating, and 170,000 rural households (40%) that use alternative fuels, such as heating oil, LPG, biomass and coal. Whereas not all of these households may be classed as financially vulnerable, those communities still have to contend with higher living costs than those living in more central areas of Scotland. That is why it is essential that off-grid consumers are treated equitably to those who are on-grid in relation to energy prices.
“Access to a ‘gas equivalent’ social tariff for electricity would provide immediate support to those who rely on expensive forms of electric heating. It would also support the shift to zero emission heating systems by offering transitional protection ahead of the expected reforms to gas and electricity prices.”
Gillian Martin also presses the case around smart meters, with fewer than 10% of electricity customers in Orkney and Shetland currently have an operating smart meter ” preventing them from taking advantage of automated credit support and flexible tariffs.”
“ I would welcome your assurance that rural and island communities in Scotland are not left behind and smart meter installation rates will increase locally.”
Robert Leslie added:
“This is a strong message to the Tories that they need to go further than they have in the past to support the most vulnerable to these energy price hikes, including everybody that relies on electricity for heating, which includes so many folk in this constituency. Until Scotland can control energy policy the buck stops with Westminster.
“I am proud to have supported resolution at the SNP conference in October to take energy into public ownership in an independent Scotland. Until then, unless the Tories do something radical, electricity customers across the Northern Isles will continue to pay prices tied to wholesale gas markets for clean, green electricity generated on their doorstep. It is the most damaging example of a UK private energy system that is broken beyond repair.
“An independent Scotland would have power over our energy — ensuring that Scotland’s energy can work for Scotland’s people, not shareholders, and bringing fairer prices for all.”