A New Year presents an opportunity to clear out the vestiges of the past and welcome in the new. Whilst 2017 will present many opportunities and challenges, it also allows us to take a fresh look at how we do things in a fast changing world.
Last July was the warmest month ever recorded worldwide and December was uncommonly mild. Yet winter will undoubtedly soon make itself felt, with energy costs that continue to concern too many people. Government schemes such as Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments continue to take the edge off bills for many individuals simply seeking to warm their homes. With these powers being devolved, the SNP Government will further target such assistance where it is needed most, for example, by increasing Winter Fuel Payments for those with disabled children on the higher rate of Disability Living Allowance, and making earlier payments to people living off the energy grid. In addition, since 2009, the SNP Government has allocated over £500 million to make homes more energy efficient and cut fuel bills. The Warmer Homes Scotland scheme in particular has helped some of the most vulnerable in our society, by providing energy efficiency measures, ranging from the installation of new boilers to better insulation, helping participants save an average of £350 annually on fuel cost savings. For more on how this scheme can help, please visit www.greenerscotland.org/home-energy/advice-and-grants/warmer-homes-scotland .
Whilst helping with energy efficiency measures, the SNP Government has also looked at supply both for environmental and security reasons. I was delighted to learn from my colleague Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, that across Scotland we have already passed our 2020 target of generating 500 Mega Watts (MW) of electricity annually through community and locally-owned renewables projects, with some 595 MW of power already being produced, enough to heat and light around 300,000 homes. These schemes, based on wind, biomass and solar energy, have been so successful that the SNP Government has now doubled its commitment, to achieve one Giga Watt of electricity by 2020.
The fastest change in the renewable world relates to solar energy, which offers a green and renewable means by which to generate electricity through daylight hours. Contrary to popular belief, they can also generate electricity on a dreich and cloudy Scottish day. In the past, solar panels were expensive, limiting their use, but as costs have fallen, their uptake has dramatically increased. Whilst many councils and housing associations now incorporate solar power into their properties, it is also possible for owner-occupiers to install panels themselves, for either a new or existing house. In addition to producing cleaner energy, these can also help cut fuel bills in the long term.
The SNP Government provides interest free loans for up to five years to help purchase solar panels, whilst the UK Government offers an incentive to make money from the panels once installed, through the Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) scheme. Through this, your electricity supplier pays for the energy you generate, plus any surplus power exported. This income can be used to help pay off your loan, and create further subsequent savings on electricity bills. Even better, the FIT rate, which unfortunately is being cut in future years, can be locked in for up to 20 years when you sign up, meaning that even though the rate will decrease each year for newcomers, you will continue to be paid at the same rate initially signed up for.
The savings can be significant and the increasing use of such systems helps to mitigate climate change. So why not go green in Seventeen? For further details, please visit www.homeenergyscotland.org .