A complex issue

Our Rural Wisdom project works alongside Burghead and Cummingston, two small villages on the Moray Coast. They are off the gas grid and people have been telling us that they are struggling to heat their houses due to rising prices and lack of fuel choice. Moray has the lowest levels of gas connection and highest use of electricity for energy outside of the Highlands and Islands. There is a direct link between heating costs and available fuel choice.

The phrase ‘Cold Home’ is used when a home has an Energy Efficiency Rating or EPC of D-G. Data collected by The Existing Homes Alliance shows that Moray has 23,800 ‘cold homes’, this is around 73% of homes – and 43% are in ‘fuel poverty’. In Scotland, the term ‘fuel poverty’ is used when more than 10% of household income is spent on fuel. This doesn’t measure how cold a house is and doesn’t account for the instances where people make the decision between heating their homes or saving that money to afford other essentials. A recent concern during the COVID-19 crisis is that friends, family and agencies such as Social Services are not visiting homes as frequently – quite often it was these informal checks that highlighted if someone was struggling to heat their house adequately.

Local Voices

We listened to people who shared their experiences and challenges. We realised that people didn’t know where to get advice on ways to reduce their fuel use or where to get support with costs. We wanted to understand these issues at a very local level, so we created a survey in partnership with the community council – this gave us a clearer picture of the extent of the problem.

It highlighted to us that people were spending way above the average UK dual fuel bill of £1113 – some annual costs were as high as £3500 for electric storage heating or solid fuel burners.

We heard that people were commonly told to insulate their houses as a way to save costs. Our survey showed that 85% of people had loft insulation and 81% had double glazing but were still cold.

Taking a community approach

We understand that these are sensitive and challenging subjects and asking for help can be difficult. We wanted to support people to ask questions and access information that could improve their situations. We hosted a community energy information event which was attended by around 200 people including Richard Lochhead MSP and Councillor Louise Laing. Advice was available from Home Energy Scotland and Rural Environmental Action Project (REAP) on a range of issues from energy saving, to renewables and electric cars. Representatives from local renewable technology firms were also there.

The event highlighted that renewables were a good solution to fuel poverty as well as a way to tackle climate change – a great way to enable people to reduce fuel use, save money and address the global climate crisis at the same time.

Next Steps

The communities of Burghead and Cummingston have continued to show enthusiasm and commitment to exploring their renewable energy options. Burghead has now been selected to be part of a pilot looking at renewables as part of the Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) in Moray. Local organisation, Energising Moray, are also building the case for a Moray Energy Hub which could push forward renewable energy production, reducing local fuel costs.

Rural Wisdom will continue to support older people and their communities to take these next steps which also include the creation of a local Development Trust. We are working in partnership with Fairer Moray Forum Action Group to gather case studies and evidence which we will share with relevant agencies and Scottish Government. This will help to raise awareness of the issues across Moray, show the impacts of these issues and how important it is to address them now.

While we are supporting these longer-term initiatives, we will be sharing information about what support is available now and are feeding into Scottish Government plans and consultations around the devolved Winter Fuel Allowance.

We are keen to connect with other communities or organisations who are exploring the links between fuel poverty, reducing consumption and renewable energy. Please get in touch with Rural Wisdom Development Worker – Fi Thomson: fiona@otbds.org /  07841015845