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We can do it!

In his third blog in a series including Power to Change and Power of Circles, CEO of Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association and Board Member of Power Circle, Neil Clapperton explores the role of governments in ending fuel poverty.

Government, gonnae flex those change muscles and put the big girl’s trousers on for a just energy transition?  Bill Gates has been saying this for years; climate crisis is just too wicked for the private sector and needs the big state.  But in our moment of need, is the state a shrinking violet?  Are social landlords and tenants now forced to shoulder the burden of a fair transition away from gas with little generosity from Holyrood or Westminster?  In the last blog I shared the hope that models like Power Circle could make the change gentle for the poorest in society and protect rents, but how can the UK and Scottish Governments help?

Would it be naïve to ask for nationalisation of energy?  Extreme gas and electricity price hikes in recent weeks, big utility demands for subsidies, and numerous small players going bust, suggest that the market isn’t working, or even a market at all in the classical sense.  It’s certainly done no favours for our tenants.

If not a publicly owned energy system, then what? In government, the use of targets is a managerial shibboleth, so measuring stuff is how we get to save the planet.  Unfortunately for the efficiency of dwellings, metrics like Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) or Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) create perverse incentives for gas, and penalise sensible solutions.  Timescales for review are too long.  Regulators take their direction from government, so until politicians turn the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) tanker, social landlords will be stymied.

A second strand to holy metrics is consistency.  Despite Scotland’s diversity we all have the same standard, and one that feels urban.  Highlands and Islands electricity is pretty much carbon neutral or carbon negative, exporting renewable energy to grid, yet the people living there don’t benefit and social landlords struggle to pass EESSH if they use electric heating.  Whilst great for the planet, the metrics’ fabric-first approach to reduced demand is too narrow and must take account of onsite energy generation and storage.  Remote and island Scotland needs flexibility and local nuance.

Energy market regulation is changing to allow more local solutions, like peer to peer trading and smart grids.  These are powerfully transformative and social landlords can play a pivotal role in turning localism into lower bills for tenants.  Trouble is, most Designated Network Operators (DNOs) are not going to think local unless pushed.  Do the fuel poor really enter into their thinking?  It sounds like Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) preferred solution is top-down control?  It has 70k customers on Total Heat Total Control (THTC) tariff in the North, giving SSEN a wonderful grid management resource without providing any benefit, and trapping customers on restricted meters.  Ovo may have bought SSE’s retail customers, but SSE still charges them a premium because it has more grid per person, despite everyone in the UK benefiting from the North of Scotland grid’s green energy.  Is the system broken if the fuel poor subsidise corporate energy and more affluent regions?

This is a climate crisis, so let’s act like it.  Building on the innovations like the Energy Service Company (ESCo) model, why not ask government to do some little things that will make a big difference.

The first priority for Scottish Government should be to engage with SAP11 development to try and speed it up, give credit for onsite energy generation and storage, and all effective forms of low carbon heating.

Push the UK government to remove the Highland grid tax, and stop penalising northern communities through the extra cost of using the grid.

Government should tell DNO’s to engage and facilitate new community led models, and give structured and universal support for them so there is an alternative to big, expensive capital projects, and THTC.

While they are at it, get utilities to ramp up smart meter coverage in rural areas.

And a personal ask of Scottish and Southern: embrace localism, there’s lots of it around your patch.  And both SSE and Ovo can find a fairer way to balance the grid than THTC.

The beauty of community electricity is the infrastructure exists now.  Scotland has plenty of examples to draw on, as a climate, community and household friendly energy source.  And if the idea wasn’t lovely enough, it’s compatible with all forms of heating, as flexible as you need it to be, wherever you live.

Views expressed by the authors may not represent the views of CaCHE.

 
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Date: October 13, 2021 9:32 am

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