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Energy / Green minister keen to see more community benefit from renewable energy projects

Work to make homes greener and more energy efficient should have been started decades ago, Patrick Harvie says during visit to the isles

Taking in the sights: Minister for active travel and net zero buildings on his ministerial tour through Lerwick on Tuesday. Photo: Transport Scotland

THERE needs to be a change in how energy is regulated in the UK if bill payers are to get a better deal, according to the Scottish Government’s minister for zero carbon buildings Patrick Harvie.

Speaking during a visit to Shetland this week, the Green MSP said it is “genuinely unfair” that consumers are not benefiting more from the price of renewable energy.

He was responding to the suggestion of geographical energy prices – such as the long-mooted ‘Shetland tariff’, given that the isles are ensconced in oil and gas and will soon be a net exporter of renewable electricity.

Harvie was in the isles partly to announce an uplift in funding for climate-friendly heating and energy efficiency measures in social housing, and he was given a tour around Hjaltland Housing Association’s Grodians scheme in Lerwick.

In the route to net zero there is a set to be a huge shift towards making homes greener, including moving away from systems like heating oil boilers and improving insulation.

Patrick Harvie: ‘People paying more than they should to stay warm in their home’. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Harvie conceded that the “heating buildings agenda is huge – it’s complex, it’s not easy and frankly it should have been started decades ago”.

The MSP pointed to Scandinavian countries in having a proactive stance on energy efficiency years ago.

“The flip side of that is there’s also a huge opportunity,” he added. “People paying more than they should to stay warm in their homes – that’s a huge opportunity for cost savings if we get the investment right.

Doing that work is also a huge opportunity for more jobs, really good quality careers to be had doing this work in communities right across Scotland.”

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When asked about the lack of contractors in Shetland accredited in carrying out certain energy efficiency work, Harvie said it can be an issue across the country.

“But it’s particularly acute in communities like this one,” he continued. “I think there’s more that we can do to enable some sharing of capacity – things like mobile training units, we’ve been investing in that.

“That will enable existing contractors to build their skills with technologies they’re less trained up on, gaining those skills to make sure they’re able to do that work.

“But we need to make sure that this is an attractive line of work for young people to enter. I’m convinced that there are not just short term jobs to be had, but high quality, long term careers to be had in doing this work.”

It was just earlier this month that it was announced that all of the 103 Viking Energy wind farm turbines had been completed – with the 443MW development set to go live next year, and largely exporting power to the UK mainland.

The council is continuing to push for a ‘Shetland tariff’ – cheaper bills for islanders given that Shetland will be a net exporter of energy.

The responsibility for that lies outwith Scotland, and Harvie is keen to see change

“For me I think we need to fundamentally break the artificial link that exists between electricity and gas prices,” he said.

“At the moment electricity is more expensive than it should be.

“We’re generating electricity cleanly, green, renewable electricity abundant and cheap at the generation point, but that benefit isn’t being passed onto bill payers whether that’s in Shetland or anywhere else in Scotland.

“That’s genuinely unfair, it’s also silly because it undermines our ability to continue to roll that benefit out and see more switchover to renewables.”

Viking Energy wind farm developer SSE Renewables is due to pay out £2.2 million in community benefit money annually, and the organisation which would administer that money has been consulting on how it will play out.

Harvie said the government wants to see more community benefit, “whether that’s coming from renewable electricity generation on a big scale like that, whether that’s heat networks”.

“There’s a great deal about our energy system at the moment that’s dominated by the interests of big business.

“We need and can have an energy system that’s driven by the interests of the public.”

A detailed analysis carried out by Orkney based environmental services consultancy Aquatera a few years ago found that community owned wind farms in Scotland provide between 15 and 34 times more community benefit than privately owned projects.

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