Briefing #14: Climate, fuel poverty & the cost of living

Briefing #14 on climate, fuel poverty and the cost of living is now available for download. As with all the our briefings you are welcome to use and adapt the briefing content – attribution to https://scote3.net is appreciated.

The content of the briefing is reproduced below.

Climate, fuel poverty & the cost of living

Fuel poverty kills

Prior to the latest crisis almost 25% of households in Scotland lived in fuel poverty and just over 12% were in extreme fuel poverty.  Households in extreme fuel poverty are disproportionately represented in rural Scotland.  Older people living in rural Scotland are particularly hard hit. Every year thousands die because of fuel poverty – in 2018/19 excess winter mortality (that’s in comparison with the average winter mortality for the previous five years) was 2060 – the death toll can be more than twice as high in cold winters. Around 85% of households in the UK rely on gas for heating and cooking.  The huge hike in gas prices is going to make an already unacceptable situation much, much worse.  

Rising fuel prices

Gas and electricity prices have been rising faster than inflation for a long time.  From 2006 – 2016, Gas prices rose by 71% and Electricity 62%. Between 2017 and 2020 electricity prices increased by a further 8% in real terms while gas prices fell by a similar amount.  But gas prices are extremely volatile.  Since 2019 the wholesale price has almost trebled. 

Gas consumption fell by just over 2% in 2020, a consequence of lockdowns around the world.  In 2021 there was a rebound with consumption increasing by 4.6% because of increased economic activity and several extreme weather events worldwide.  The cost of producing gas is about the same this year as it was last year and the year before. So why has the price rocketed up?  Prior to 1987 the EU designated natural gas a premium fuel that should be reserved for home heating.  Now 60% of gas is used to generate electricity.  Britain used to have significant storage capability. This was abandoned in favour of allowing the market to deliver gas as needed.  These changes have been a disaster.  Gas is traded on the spot market with hedge funds gambling on future prices.  As a result, the cost of an essential utility is determined by a casino where traders rake in massive profits while consumers pay the price.

Lack of ambition

In June 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed a new act setting statutory targets for reducing fuel poverty.  Rightly it highlights the impact of fuel poverty on the most vulnerable in society. Low-income, high-energy costs, and poorly insulated housing result in the appalling situation where families, young people, elderly, disabled and many working people, cannot afford adequate warmth.  The new act sets interim targets for reducing fuel poverty to 15% of households by 2030 and final targets for 2040.  Considering the cost of living and climate crises we face this is too slow and not enough.   The act failed to address the threat posed by a chaotic market.  From April 2022 annual bills will increase by an average of almost £700.  Further increases are expected later in the year.  The numbers in fuel poverty are set to rise well above the current level.  

Fossil fuels cost the earth

Both Holyrood and Westminster remain committed to the maximum economic extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea. The big energy companies are making billions in extra profits out of the crisis.  North Sea oil and gas operates under a regime of very low taxation.  With prices high companies will be doubling down on plans to open new gas fields.  If this happens there is no chance of meeting the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are essential.  We argue that there are two essential steps.  The first is to protect all those who are in fuel poverty and stop more people joining them.  A windfall tax on profiteers will help with this but should not be mistaken for a long-term solution – and the scale of the problem is so large that it requires significant redistribution with higher taxes on the rich and much more support for the poor.  These are necessary short-term steps to prevent large scale misery, deprivation and increased winter deaths.  But a secure future for us all rests on gas being taken out of the market, with North Sea and North Atlantic oil and gas taken into public ownership and control.  With public control it then becomes possible to plan for the phase out of fossil fuels from the North Sea.  In the process we cut greenhouse gas emissions and replace expensive gas heating by cheaper renewables.  The interests of working people and the need to protect the planet are aligned.

A mass insulation campaign

In its ‘One Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet’, the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) notes that 

Three quarters of emissions from houses and flats … are caused by heating air and water. To reduce this we need to insulate and draught- proof the buildings, and replace inefficient boilers. This can cut the amount of energy used to heat the home and water by about 40% and delivers the double-whammy of reducing energy costs and helping mitigate the scourge of fuel poverty. 

Based on these CACC estimates, which are for the whole of the UK, a campaign to properly insulate all homes in Scotland would employ around 20,000 construction workers for the next 20 years.  This doesn’t account for additional jobs in education, training and manufacture that would spin off from such an endeavour.  Through this carbon dioxide emissions from homes would be cut by 95%.   We could ensure that all new houses are effectively carbon neutral.  The technology exists – there are examples of ‘passive houses’ that use very little energy.  Insulation together with the steady replacement of gas boilers by affordable heat pumps is the solution to cutting the energy demands of domestic heating. Hydrogen is not a solution (see Briefing #13).

Image by Pete Cannell CC0 Public Domain

New Technologies 

The current costs for fossil fuel power range from 4p -12p per kilowatt-hour. Inter renewable energy agency (IREA) state that renewable energy will cost 2p – 7p with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity for 2p or less.  Renewable energy is necessary for a sustainable future, and it is cheaper than fossil fuels.  Current Westminster Government policy – notably the subsidy ban for new onshore wind farms – is impeding the shift to renewables. 

No Fracking

For the moment fracking is off the agenda in Scotland.  The result of a magnificent campaign of resistance.  But INEOS continues to import fracked gas from the US.  This has to stop.

In conclusion

Fuel Poverty and the cost-of-living crisis are the direct result of the “wrecking ball” of market forces dominating our need for energy to give us warmth, light and sustenance. In the pursuit of profit, the use of fossil fuels adds to the catastrophe of climate change.

We have the technology and skills to stop this madness and misery through a radical shift in Energy policy that would combine sustainable and renewable resources dedicated to social need.  Tackling climate change would go hand in hand with creating additional jobs, eliminating fuel poverty, and improving health and well-being.  To make this happen we need the kind of focus and the level of investment that has only normally applied at times of war.  Ending the use of fossil fuels over a short period is practically possible provided there is the political will.

Some of the material in this briefing also appears in Briefing #7 – Fuel Poverty

About Scot E3

Scot.E3 is a group of rank and file trade unionists, activists and environmental campaigners. In 2107 we made a submission to the Scottish Government’s Consultation on a Scottish Energy Strategy. Since then we have been busy producing and sharing leaflets and bulletins.

We believe there is a compelling case for a radical shift in energy policy. Looming over us there is the prospect of catastrophic climate change, which will wreck the future for our children and grandchildren.

We have the knowledge and the skills to make a difference to people’s lives in the here and now. A sustainable future requires a coherent strategy for employment, energy and the environment. We need a sense of urgency.  We need a coordinated strategy and massive public investment.

The future for home heating

Yesterday (27th January 2022 saw the launch of a new report weighing up the relative merits of hydrogen and heat pumps for domestic heating.  The report was produced by the Imperial College Energy Futures Lab.  It concludes that while hydrogen will have a role in decarbonising some industrial process it is not appropriate for domestic heating. 

The research finds that hydrogen infrastructure is not going to be viable for domestic heating applications at scale for at least the next 10 years and therefore, the Government should focus on deploying solutions which are available now including energy efficiency, electrification through heat pumps and heat networks as the main focus for its strategy. 

Richard Hanna one of the reports authors says:

… hydrogen has potential to help decarbonize challenging sectors like industry and shipping but right now there is not a strong case for using it to here in our homes. In the near-term government should focus efforts on improving heat pump products and their affordability and supporting industry to rapidly scale up production of technology in the UK

Scot.E3 argues that current UK and Scottish government support hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas is deeply misguided and is unlikely to be effective in cutting carbon emissions.  This really matters since domestic heating is responsible for around 23% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.  The UK is currently very dependent on the use of natural gas for domestic heating.  Around 85% of homes use gas. One consequence of this heavy dependence is the ratchetting up of levels of fuel poverty because of the massive hike in gas prices that has occurred over the last few months.  

The report is well worth reading and includes a really useful and extensive list of links to further reading.  Butven if you don’t have time to read the report in full, do read the policy recommendations.  These highlight the need for public sector procurement, for planning, for rapidly increasing the rate of heat pump installation starting from now and critically for immediate investment in training to create a skilled workforce able to carry out this work.

This is the video of the meeting at which the report was launched.

Trask, A., Hanna, R. and Rhodes, A. The Future of Home Heating: the Roles of Heat Pumps and Hydrogen, An Energy Futures Lab Briefing Paper, Imperial College London Consultants. Available at: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/energy-futures-lab/reports/ briefing-papers/paper-8/ 

Fuel Poverty Update

The latest of the ScotE3 briefings to be updated is Briefing 7 which looks at Fuel Poverty. A week ago the UK Energy Regulator ‘OFGEN’ raised the price cap which governs electricity and gas prices for consumers. There will be sharp increases in gas prices in particular. The raising of the cap is good news for the energy companies and very bad news for the poor. There is no doubt that in the context of rising unemployment there will be an increase in already unacceptably high levels of fuel poverty.

Here’s the text of Briefing 7. You can download the briefing to read, print and distribute.

Fuel poverty kills

In Scotland, almost 25% of households live in fuel poverty and just over 12% are in extreme fuel poverty.  Households in extreme fuel poverty are disproportionately represented in rural Scotland Older people living in rural Scotland are particularly hard hit. Every year thousands die because of fuel poverty – in 2018/19 excess winter mortality was 2060 – the death toll can be more than twice as high in cold winters. [Please note that at the time of writing all the data available predated Covid 19 – the pandemic is likely to have increased the figures we quote here.]

Rising fuel prices

From 2006 – 2016, Gas and Electricity prices rose by 71% and 62% respectively. Between 2017and 2020 electricity prices increased by a further 8% in real terms while gas prices fell by a similar amount. Gas prices are more volatile and steep price rises are taking place in 2021.   Throughout Britain, it would cost £3billion – £8billion to end fuel poverty – a fraction of the cost of tax avoidance or defence.

A new policy

In June 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed a new act setting statutory targets for reducing fuel poverty.  The bill is necessary and welcome but falls short of what is needed.  Rightly it highlights the impact of fuel poverty on the most vulnerable in society. Low income, high-energy costs and 

poorly insulated housing result in this appalling situation where families, young people, elderly, disabled and many working people, cannot afford adequate warmth.  It also notes how measures to alleviate fuel poverty can have a positive impact on carbon emissions and create new jobs and links these measures to decarbonisation and the new Just Transitions Commission.

Lack of ambition

The new act sets interim targets for reducing fuel poverty to 15% of households by 2030 and final targets for 2040.  In light of the climate threat we face this is way too slow.  The act is sketchy on how targets will be achieved.  Moreover, there is no recognition of the impending crisis of energy capacity in Scotland, which, if not addressed, will further impact heavily on the poorest, weakest and elderly in our communities.  Some of these weaknesses could have been addressed in a Final Fuel Poverty Strategy that was due to be published u=in September 2020.  However, this was put on hold because of Covid and is yet to be published.

Climate action

There is no reason why Scotland could not produce an energy surplus.  There is an abundance of renewable resources to hand.   In light of the recent UN report, and the latest science, what’s needed is an integrated policy that aims for a zero carbon economy by 2030.  Such a policy would eliminate fuel poverty and create many thousands of new jobs.

A mass insulation campaign

In its ‘One Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet’, the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) notes that 

Three quarters of emissions from houses and flats … are caused by heating air and water. To reduce this we need to insulate and draught- proof the buildings, and replace inefficient boilers. This can cut the amount of energy used to heat the home and water by about 40% and delivers the double-whammy of reducing energy costs and helping mitigate the scourge of fuel poverty. 

Based on these CACC estimates, which are for the whole of the UK, a campaign to properly insulate all homes in Scotland would employ around 20,000 construction workers for the next 20 years.  This doesn’t account for additional jobs in education, training and manufacture that would spin off from such an endeavour.  Through this carbon dioxide emissions from homes would be cut by 95%.   We could ensure that all new houses are effectively carbon neutral.  The technology exists – there are examples of ‘passive houses’ that use very little energy. 

New Technologies 

The current costs for fossil fuel power range from 4p -12p per kilowatt-hour. Inter renewable energy agency (IREA) state that renewable energy will cost 2p – 7p with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity for 2p or less.  Renewable energy is necessary for a sustainable future and it is cheaper than fossil fuels.  Current Westminster Government policy – notably the subsidy ban for new onshore wind farms – is impeding the shift to renewables. The ban could add £1billion onto fuel bills.

No Fracking

For the moment fracking is off the agenda in Scotland.  The result of a magnificent campaign of resistance.  But INEOS continues to import fracked gas from the US.  This has to stop.

No market solution

Fuel Poverty is a direct result of the ”wrecking ball” of market forces dominating our need for energy to give us warmth, light and sustenance. In the pursuit of profit, the use of fossil fuels adds to the catastrophe of climate change.

We have the technology and skills to stop this madness and misery through a radical shift in Energy policy that would combine sustainable and renewable resources dedicated to social need.  Tackling climate change would go hand in hand with creating additional jobs, eliminating fuel poverty, and improving health and well-being.  To make this happen we need the kind of focus and the level of investment that has only normally applied at times of war.  Ending the use of fossil fuels over a short period is practically possible provided there is the political will.

Decarbonising our heating systems

Leeds TUC’s Environmental sub-committee held a webinar recently on ‘Alternative ways to decarbonise our heating systems’ – the video includes a lot of useful information and some sharp critique of the idea that’ blue hydrogen’ could be a way forward.

Thanks to Les Levidov for the link

Energy efficient housing

The announcement by Paul Wheelhouse that the Scottish government will work on new regulations to ensure that new homes use renewable or low carbon energy sources for heating is a small but welcome step in the right direction.  However, the timescale for action is disappointingly unambitious; the new measures are not planned to be implemented until 2024.  Setting a much shorter deadline would send a message to private sector builders and local authorities that ‘climate emergency’ is exactly what it says. In housing, as elsewhere, action needs to be take place on the shortest time lines possible.

Let’s up the pressure for a mass public programme of retrofitting existing houses to be energy efficient.  This is a necessary step and in addition the climate jobs and the improvements in living conditions that it would generate would have a massive impact on people’s attitude to the climate emergency and what needs to be done.  It would be just transition in practice.

Passivhaus_section_en

Passive House, Image CC BY SA 3.0

Urban change in a time of climate crisis

Housing is a central issue in the transition to a long term sustainable economy.  As a group Scot.E3 has produced resources on Fuel Poverty and we are currently working on more resources that look at how passive houses and a mass campaign of home insulation could contribute to a just transition while at the same time as improving the quality off people’s lives.  We’re pleased to publish a post by Save Leith Walk activist Ian Hood on the work that the campaign has done to think about the future of hosing in their area.

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Early in 2018, it became clear that developers wanted to demolish a long parade of shops in Leith Walk and replace it with a student accommodation.  A popular local campaign emerged to challenge this and in January 2019 Edinburgh Council agreed that the building should not be demolished and that the proposed development was unacceptable.  Planning Permission was refused.

But the campaign has always been about more than just opposing the wishes of developers.  To be successful in the long run we need to promote an alternative vision, one that reflects the needs of the local community and can take it forward.

Over the last year campaign members have spoken to thousands of local workers and residents about what is important to them. We have directly canvassed the opinions of hundreds of local people about their preferences for new development in the Leith Walk area.   This was followed up by a local community planning workshop that looked at the needs and wishes of people who lived in the area.

And at the heart of the emerging view was the sense that any new development had to be both sustainable and promote strong environmental values.

We did not create a single business plan or an architectural map for developers.  We identified the three different elements that can contribute to the vision.  Sketch maps that illustrate each of these were drawn up.   The need for more social housing dominated in all of the visions and also important were business space, community support and green space.

Running through the core of the vision is the idea that ecological and environmental issues are not add ons at the end of a planning process but integral to any design.

blog image leith

Community Housing (see image above) faces up to the long term problem of housing provision in Leith and provides a range of solutions to housing need.  Building diverse housing that allows people to live and play together strengthens our communities in fundamental ways.

  • Opening up to the Leith Walk community by creating new access through the centre of the building.
  • A covered walkway could be created at the rear of the building bringing the housing units into connection with the sandstone building.
  • Up to Eleven housing blocks in different sizes and shapes could be built in the land behind offering a range of housing opportunities including
    • Open Market homes,
    • intergenerational housing,
    • flexible and adaptable homes,
    • co-housing models
  • Designed to the Passive Housing standards making environmentally friendly homes.
  • Living walls could blend the development into the surrounding space
  • There could be a shared guest house and other community space reducing the need for spare rooms and encouraging sharing.
  • Affordable student housing owned by the community.

Community Cohesion is about strengthening community links and helping people to focus on the challenges that affect them and develop new skills to tackle them.   It can create a new vision of community where people from different racial, class, gender, age and religious backgrounds are partners in their own futures.

  • A refreshed building, made Green Energy resilient.
  • New opportunities to existing businesses and new small, low cost starter units.
  • Blocks of colony style eco homes consisting of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom flats to allow for real flexibility over time.Social housing block providing accessible housing for older people and disabled people.
  • A Community Event Centre that could offer classes and social opportunities.
  • Opportunities for beehives, public artworks, fruit trees, bench seating. And an open air market.

Community Enterprise addresses the challenge of how to create employment opportunities in Leith that meet the demands of the global market.  It recognises that businesses are stronger when cooperation and mutual support are part of a shared value basis.  Working together to create jobs, new business and entrepreneurial opportunities can transform our community.

  • The building would be refreshed, upgrading it with an accessible green roof and additional business pods.
  • The existing shops and business would be revitalised to offer opportunities to existing businesses as well as offering small, low cost starter units.
  • Design attention to wellbeing and support for locals. A community bakery could be integral part of the building to allow people to come together, to bake bread together and to share bread together.
  • A social enterprise and community space to train and share business skills including incubator units for creative, media, IT and other businesses.
  • A block of open market starter, eco homes with space for new businesses
  • Additional green space with open meadows planted with wildflowers, recreational natural green space, community orchard, accessible allotments, beehives and vegetable gardens.

Our vision seeks to build on the strength of the existing community and to create new ways of bringing people together.  They can enhance the area, preserve its diversity and inclusivity, and contribute towards Leith having a bright future in the 21stcentury.

The Stead’s Place site is too small to contain all of these solutions but we will work with other sites and local stakeholders over the next few months to develop our plans.

Urban development today in the light of a real Climate Crisis needs to work with people’s needs and not be imposed by profit seekers.   Single sites cannot be allowed to simply focus on one issue, retail, student accommodation, tourism but must integrate different part of the community’s need into a coherent vision.

We have started that work and welcome the support of others in continuing to develop this vision.

Ian Hood

Save Leith Walk

For More Information and contact us

Email:  Info@saveleithwalk.org

Web:www.saveleithwalk.org

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Fuel Poverty, Energy and the fight for Climate Jobs

Stage one of the Scottish Government’s Fuel Poverty Bill was completed on 20th February 2019. In our view the bill is not ambitious enough. We risk missing an important opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, create new climate jobs and strike a blow for social justice. Ending Fuel Poverty could and should be part of the Just Transition to a zero carbon economy that we need. We will publish more on this in the coming weeks – contributions are welcome.

Here are Marlyn Tweedie’s thoughts on the subject.

On Feb 15th, school children, all over Europe, came out on strike in protest at the catastrophic future they face because of climate change.

We need to make big changes re. our energy sources if we are to slow down climate change.

What if we could use sustainable energy sources to reverse climate change damage and provide cheaper fuel? Wouldn’t this be a win- win solution?

Fuel Poverty In Scotland

Over 25% of households live in fuel poverty – defined as spending 10% or more of your income on fuel bills, or, if, after paying for fuel, your income is below the poverty line.

In rural Scotland, the extent of fuel poverty is higher. A 2016 report states that in accessible rural areas, there is 35% fuel poverty and in remote areas, the figure is 45%.

Regarding extreme fuel poverty, the comparable figures are 7% for Scotland, as a region; 12% in accessible rural areas and 28% in remote areas.

Low income, high energy costs and poorly insulated homes result in this appalling situation where families, young people, elderly, disabled and many working people cannot afford adequate warmth.

A situation, which, it is estimated, contributes to 5,500 deaths a year.

What Can Be Done?

Fuel poverty would be best approached as part of a radical change in energy policy.

Scotland has an abundance of renewable energies – in the form of wave, wind and tidal energy.

The costs are cheaper. Current gas and oil costs are between 4p and 12p per kilowatt hour. Renewables are between 2p and 7p.

If, alongside a switch to renewables. A mass insulation campaign was implemented, carbon emissions could be cut by 95%.

The Campaign against Climate Change notes Three quarters of emissions from houses and flats are caused by heating air and water. To reduce this we need to insulate and draught- proof buildings and replace inefficient boilers. This can cut the amount of energy used by about 40% and delivers the double whammy of reducing energy costs and helping mitigate the scourge of fuel poverty.

It is estimated that a campaign to insulate all homes in Scotland would employ 20,000 construction workers for the next 20 years.

Further reading – the ScotE3 briefing on Fuel Poverty

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Image by climatejusticecollective CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/cj_collective/6992454230

Fuel Poverty Briefing

The latest briefing looks at Fuel Poverty in Scotland, the Scottish Government’s Draft Fuel Poverty Bill and the importance of Climate Jobs.  Please share and download to print paper copies for distribution.

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