Dr Ron Mould and Dr Keith Baker, co-founders of the Energy Poverty Research Initiative, call on the Scottish Government to take more drastic action to deliver a sustainable national energy policy
THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT is on a collision course with the public sector over the Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) under its Energy Efficiency Scotland programme.
According to its latest vision for gas and electricity networks LHEES will “give Scotland’s local authorities a leading role in developing energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation strategies – tailored to the resources, geography and demography of each area of Scotland. Local authorities will need to engage strategically with electricity and gas network companies as they develop these LHEES – taking existing network capacity into account, and how best to use this to support decarbonisation of the whole energy system.”
Yet whilst the Scottish Government has pursued national carbon reduction targets with a degree of vigour and success, this has been with scant attention to the need for strategic regional planning to direct and develop appropriate energy technologies and infrastructure for local regions and communities.
As we discussed in our policy paper on the proposals for a National Energy Company and the need for a Scottish Energy Development Agency, there is a disconnect in political thinking which is built not just on a belief in competition, privatisation, and market-led solutions; but also on a poor evidence base that fails to account for how cultures, traditions, and societal norms shape the decisions we make about energy and the needs of householders.
For example, the Scottish Government understands the indirect benefits (co-benefits) that can be unlocked linking up the development of DHS with locally-sourced, sustainable, biomass production to create local employment, provide recreation tourism opportunities, and enhance biodiversity; but it steps back from using its own data to target resources to areas where such projects would be most appropriate and have the greatest benefits.
This disconnect creates a substantial cost inefficiency due to the time and resources needed by the many organisations involved in developing competing bids for funding, and increases inequality as better resourced proposals are at a competitive advantage.
However, government policy should be directing investment and support to the areas where the capacities of the public sector and local communities are weakest, and it should clearly define the resources required, something it has failed to do so far.
COSLA has commented on the concerns of local authorities over the resources required to deliver these proposals in their responses to LHEES and Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP) consultations and yet the Scottish Government is persisting down a path that derogates responsibilities without providing sufficient resources to meet them.
Furthermore, as LHEES includes legislation which, whilst being needed to improve our homes and buildings and tackle climate change, may be viewed by some as draconian, it might be concluded that this is an attempt to push difficult policy decisions down to local authorities.
We therefore ask that the Scottish Government to:
- Fully acknowledges the limitations placed on it by reserved matters. This does not stop it publishing what it would consider to be an effective solution if it had the power to do so.Nor does this stop them from developing more radical solutions within their competence.
- Take responsibility for strategic policy decisions, legislation and regulations, make them and do not attempt to devolve them to local authorities.
- Assess the needs of local authorities to deliver new obligations and resource these fairly and equitably.
Dr Ron Mould and Dr Keith Baker are members of Common Weal’s Energy Policy Working Group and Co-founders of the Energy Poverty Research initiative.
Picture courtesy of Timo Newton-Syms