The Highland Energy Rebate is a call for fairness and should be honoured by the UK Government in full

There is a profound energy crisis afflicting our constituents in the Highlands and Islands, one that has been ignored for too long by the UK Government, who have all the powers over energy policy reserved to them and their regulator OfGem.

Simply put people in the Highlands and Islands are suffering the highest levels of fuel and extreme fuel poverty, across the nations of the UK. Despite living in an area that generates over 6 times the amount of electricity they use, they are paying much more for it than London, for example. When it comes to standing charges, they are paying some 50% more.

The Highland Energy Rebate campaign proposes a concrete solution.

The Highlands and Islands aren’t just scenic landscapes; they’re the backbone of the UK’s renewable energy sector, contributing significantly to the national grid. Yet, paradoxically, our communities are ensnared in a vicious cycle of fuel poverty, paying exorbitantly for the very energy they help generate. This is not merely an inconvenience; it’s a dire predicament threatening the wellbeing of Highlanders.

Of course, fuel poverty is a major driver of actual poverty. And when the time comes that you can’t switch the heating on, a lived experience for many in the Highlands, other problems begin. As medical journal, the Lancet pointed out, when people can no longer heat their homes, their mental health declines significantly; their odds of reporting depression, anxiety and/ or hypertension increases by a massive 50%. As does the risk of suicide.

For children, living in cold homes increases their risk of asthma attacks and respiratory infections. As the temperature drops, the circulation of viruses increases and immunity is impaired. An absolutely avoidable public health dereliction continues whilst this remains unaddressed.

The scale of the issue cannot be overstated. Many of my constituents live in conditions where choosing between heating and eating is a distressing reality. Despite our region’s substantial contribution to renewable electricity generation, our rewards are disproportionately meagre. The energy wealth generated within our borders fills the coffers of the UK Treasury, yet our people bear the brunt of the highest energy costs in the UK, with fuel poverty rates that are a national embarrassment.

The introduction of a Highland Energy Rebate is not just necessary; it’s a matter of equity and justice. This rebate would directly address the financial disparity experienced by Highlanders, reducing the burden of energy costs and acknowledging our critical role in the UK’s energy supply. It’s bewildering that in a region so rich in renewable resources, our communities face such hardship. Our wind, hydro, and tidal energies contribute to powering millions of homes across the UK, aiding significantly to the shift towards sustainable energy. Yet, the current system fails to recognize or compensate our people for their contribution.

This rebate can be built out of the outdated, hopelessly inadequate and antiquated Hydro Replacement Benefit scheme, which offers a mere £60 per year, and can incorporate a version of the promise, made by the Chancellor last year, to compensate those living near new, planned energy generation by reducing their bills by £1000 per year for ten years. If it’s good enough for new generation then it can also be applied to existing generation. It’s a solution that recognizes the unique position of the Highlands and Islands, turning our natural wealth into a tangible benefit for our communities.

The plight of Highlanders and Islanders in the face of rising energy costs is a stark illustration of the broader issues of inequality and injustice within our energy system. The UK Government must take decisive action to rectify this situation. The Highland Energy Rebate is a step towards acknowledging the value of our region’s contribution to the national energy grid and ensuring that our communities are no longer left in the cold. It’s time for our constituents to reap the benefits of the energy wealth they produce, to see a significant decrease in their energy bills, and to live with the dignity and comfort they deserve. The call for the Highland Energy Rebate is a call for fairness, for recognition, and for a sustainable future that benefits all.

Drew Hendry MP

Drew Hendry is the Scottish National Party MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, and was elected in 2015. He currently undertakes the role of Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy).