IS THERE ANYBODY IN?

This is an open letter from former MSP Mike MacKenzie in the Highlands and Islands to Patrick Harvie. He asked me to publish it on my blog which I am happy to do. The headline is my own. Dear Patrick Please accept my congratulations on your promotion. I am writing to you in your capacityContinue reading "IS THERE ANYBODY IN?"

IS THERE ANYBODY IN?
07 May 2011..Mike MacKenzie MSP Highlands and Islands / Scottish National Party pictured in the garden lobby during the MSP registration session. Pic – Mark Sutherland/Scottish Parliament

This is an open letter from former MSP Mike MacKenzie in the Highlands and Islands to Patrick Harvie. He asked me to publish it on my blog which I am happy to do. The headline is my own.

Dear Patrick

Please accept my congratulations on your promotion. I am writing to you in your capacity as the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings because I am concerned that the Highlands and Islands, as ever, will bear the brunt of policies which may well work well in urban Scotland but will be extremely onerous for those of us who live in the Highlands and Islands.

For example there were suggestions from some quarters during the election campaign in May that fossil fuels should be phased out in the Highlands and Islands by 2030. This is impractical and if attempted could lead to severe hardship.

As I’m sure you know the Highlands and Islands suffer from fuel poverty to a much greater extent than the rest of Scotland. This is not just because of our harsher weather but because fuel prices are much higher here and incomes are significantly lower. You will also know for example that electricity is around 5 times more expensive than mains gas and that the vast majority of people in rural Scotland are unable to access natural gas.

This is especially unfortunate since electricity in Scotland is now produced almost entirely from renewable sources and is therefore carbon free. The fact that fuel poverty is so high in Scotland with our abundant renewable energy resources is an outrage and a highly unfortunate aspect of UK energy policy. I hope you agree with me that the best way we can meet climate change responsibilities is for Scotland to become Independent as a matter of urgency and develop our own energy policies.

If we were to abandon fossil fuels in the Highlands and Islands we would be entirely reliant upon heat pumps. Even if heat pumps are 200% efficient which is extremely doubtful in practice, we would still be faced with more than twice the cost of heating our homes compared to urban people using natural gas. On considering the very significant costs of heat pumps, the costs of installation including underfloor heating or huge ‘over-sized’ radiators and the cost of installing sufficient levels of insulation, a massive investment would be required for each and every home.

We in the Highlands and Islands also have a much greater proportion of older and harder to heat houses than urban Scotland and these houses are also often ‘harder to treat’ meaning that the installation of better insulation is difficult and sometimes impossible and where it can be done is often prohibitively expensive. You will know too the dangers of rushing to insulate which we saw in the Grenfell Towers tragedy and that polyisocyanurate insulation is still in widespread use, despite its flammability and the fact that when it burns it produces a cocktail of toxic gases including cyanide.

The recent experience of widespread power cuts during and following storm Arwern is a good indication of the very significant long term under-investment in national grid infrastructure and this is particularly true in the Highlands and Islands where power cuts are a regular occurrence every winter. It is not just the prospect of people freezing in their homes during lengthy power outages that is daunting but it is doubtful if the grid could meet further substantial demands placed upon it by using electricity as our sole means of heating without massive investment and upgrading.

I am very keen for Scotland to meet its climate change responsibilities and believe that Scotland could lead the world in this respect. There are good and practically competent ways in which this could be achieved. I am mindful though that Scotland has missed its climate change targets for three years in a row and that you may feel under pressure to embark on an experiment which may prove to be disastrous for the people of the Highlands and Islands. You will know that the Highlands and Islands are responsible for a relatively small amount of Scotland’s CO2 emissions, most being produced in the central belt.

I am therefore keen to receive your reassurances that we in the Highlands are not going to be the victims of thoughtless policies which are implemented and conceived in haste.

Yours sincerely

Mike MacKenzie

PS. I will be publishing this as an open letter on social media as I believe this is a matter of public interest and concern.

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