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FERGUS EWING: This latest Greens proposal needs to go in recycling bin too!

By Fergus Ewing

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Patrick Harvie during a visit to Inverness.
Patrick Harvie during a visit to Inverness.

The recent proposals from the Green Scottish Government minister Patrick Harvie to require properties to decarbonise their heating systems will be a serious and impossible task for many in rural and island Scotland, and impose massive costs on householders.

These proposals set out to decarbonise these properties by 2025. It is reported that there is even a threat that homes that fail the relevant standards for heating efficiency, would be illegal to sell!

It’s extraordinary that such proposals could be brought forward by any government, and there are already some signs that the First Minister has doubts about them.

There are around 170,000 off-gas grid properties across Scotland that currently use heating oil, LPG and other solid mineral fuels – the majority of these being in rural and island areas.

The practical challenges of retrofitting older and harder to treat homes must surely be taken into account. The costs of installing a heat pump and associated energy efficiency measures has been estimated at between £15,000 and £30,000 for an off-grid property. And that's if one can actually find an installer – or local supplier – to do the work. Good luck with that.

In a recent poll, four out of five of those surveyed said the costs would be unaffordable. No wonder! How on earth does Mr Harvie think that people can afford such exorbitant cost? It has been reported that in his own tenement flat in Glasgow, he will not be switching to green heating because its impractical to do so in that type of property! Is that true, minister? Furthermore, many argue that heat pumps don't work for many properties which aren’t fully insulated, and that they won’t operate well in colder weather, nor heat water to a high enough temperature.

It’s also risky that rural homes rely solely on electrified heating. Power cuts are not infrequent in rural areas. No electric heating during power cuts means thousands of homes left with no heat at all – possibly for days. We have had experience of that in our home. Fortunately our own outages were short, and we have an open fire which came into its own! For those with no other type of heating at all – especially the elderly, disabled and young children – this is a dangerous prospect.

What has Mr Harvie to say about that? Perhaps he should tell The Inverness Courier, and also actually visit the Highlands to learn more about the hard facts and realities about heating rural homes? That is, if he is prepared to risk a journey up the mostly non-dualled A9. (Whilst he’s here, he can also explain if he backs fellow Green Mark Ruskell, who says the Highlands shouldn’t have a dualled road at all – but more roundabouts instead).

Moreover, the prioritisation of heat pumps will need huge improvements to be made to electricity grid, whilst even the Scottish Government admit that 40,000 homes will not be suitable for a heat pump altogether. The grid upgrades just cannot and will not be made by 2025. In practice, the deadline is impossible to meet. Rural householders must surely have a choice about what type of heating is used. The Scottish Government cannot order us all how to live our lives and adopt a “big brother" approach.

The Scottish Government proposals have also been roundly condemned by housebuilders who have argued that the upshot will be fewer new homes built here.

Our rural and island communities need to be listened to and supported. The sooner these proposals are consigned to the burgeoning policy recycling unit the better. I predict this will happen as anything else would be utter folly. They will then join the dire Deposit Return Scheme, and anti-fishermen proposals for Highly Protected Marine Areas.

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