BY MURRAY MACLEOD
The pricing policies of electricity giants Scottish and Southern Energy have come under the spotlight after it emerged that they charge customers in the Highlands and Islands an extra two pence per unit.
The matter will now be raised with the Scottish Government and other politicians, after an investigation in the Western Isles discovered that the area’s householders were paying more for their electricity simply because of where they live. The same is true for the rest of the north and west.
The Free Press understands that the pricing regime was uncovered by the Stornoway-based housing association Tighean Innse Gall as they explored ways of trying to reduce household fuel bills.
At 71 per cent of houses in fuel poverty, including 18 per cent in extreme fuel poverty, the Outer Hebrides not only has the worst record in Scotland and the UK but the worst in western Europe.
The Western Isles Poverty Action Group has now called for political intervention, after the two-pence electricity surcharge came to light. The group’s chair, Councillor Angus McCormack, said: “This is a national disgrace. The Outer Hebrides has the highest fuel poverty figures in Scotland at 71 per cent, compared to a 27 per cent Scottish average. A two-pence reduction in unit costs would have a significant impact on fuel poverty. A consumer using 15,000 units per year would save £300.
“The poverty action group calls on the Scottish Government to resolve this iniquity as a matter of urgency. It will seek the support of the comhairle, Western Isles Health Board and the Community Planning Partnership to lobby to have this absurd anomaly rescinded immediately. How can SSE claim to have any social conscience when it is complicit in creating the conditions for fuel poverty?”
The matter has also been reported to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who have already made formal approaches on the issue.
An SSE spokesperson said: “Regional pricing affects all energy suppliers and incorporates the additional costs associated with transporting energy to remote areas.
“SSE favours replacing this with one national charge so a customer pays the same price if they live in Benbecula, Bristol or Bradford.”
However, comhairle leader Angus Campbell said: “There is nothing to stop them doing this now and preventing the Highlands and Islands from being discriminated against.
“We are in the absurd position where we generate electricity through renewables but we are being charged extra for exporting that and we are now being charged extra to use it. That is grossly unfair to say the least.”
In the last financial year, SSE reported pre-tax profits of £1.55 billion.