Last month I took part in a Green Party Debate on local solutions to energy needs. I opened and closed the debate for the Labour group and used my time to highlight the benefits to decentralising energy.
All too often, talk of renewable energy leads only to discussion of large scale developments involving big business but the debate aimed to shift the focus back to how to engage local communities and to ensure they are able to take advantage of the benefits.
In the lead up to the last election, Labour sought to introduce a model similar to that seen in Birmingham that would see local authorities seting up a social enterprise to bulk-buy renewable technologies. These could then be installed for council and social housing tenants at an affordable cost, helping to reduce fuel poverty and carbon emissions. At the same time, excess energy generated could be sold back to the grid providing a sustainable system.
A similar Community Heat and Power scheme in Aberdeen helped to install renewables in a series of tower blocks and residents saw an immediate improvement in fuel bills. Evidence from schemes like this demonstrate that where people have a stake in renewables, the attitudes are very positive.
As Shadow Cabinet Member for my party on local government I’ve been working with colleagues in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee who have developed new ideas which build on best practice in England. New cooperative and social enterprises set up by our local councils could see costs of renewables cut so that both tenants and home owners could benefit from solar technologies and combined heat and power schemes. They could also provide the resources to massively increase investment in energy efficiency for householders.
Energy costs are a major concern for people with the prices we pay controlled by the ‘Big Six’ energy providers. Figures suggest that around a third of households are fuel poor – that is they spend 10% of their income on household fuel costs.
The Scottish Government has committed to erradicating fuel poverty by 2016 and the growth of community heat and power schemes, along with programmes to make existing homes more energy efficient, are essential if fuel poverty is to be tackled.
Meantime you can get a free energy check now. Its worth finding out whether you qualify for free for energy efficiency measures. Anyone anywhere in Scotland can phone the Energy Saving Trust on 0800 512 012 or text WARM to 81025 and they’ll phone back
Although there’s still not much on offer for tenement dwellers – if you live in a terraced, semi detached or detached house there may be practical help on offer. Check out the website here to find out.