Phase-out of fossil fuel heating will fail unless pace increases, ministers told

The Scottish Government aims to see the end of heating systems using fossil fuels by 2045.

Phase-out of fossil fuel heating will fail unless pace increases, ministers told Getty Images

The ambition to phase out fossil fuel heating in Scottish homes will fail unless the Scottish Government significantly scales up the pace, Scotland’s auditor general has warned.

Audit Scotland’s latest report has scrutinised the plans to reduce emissions by 2045, which could require most households to change their heating systems.

Auditor general Stephen Boyle has warned of “significant risks” in the target to move households to low carbon heating.

The report states: “The scale of the challenge of reducing emissions from heating homes is huge and there are several risks to success. Unless the scale and pace of activity significantly increase, the Scottish Government’s ambition will not be met.”

It is estimated that the Heat in Buildings Strategy, introduced in 2021, could cost £33 billion to the public sector, businesses and households.

The Scottish Government has currently committed to £1.8 billion of public money in this parliamentary term.

The report urges ministers to ensure any investment has “maximum impact” and is “value for money” given the tough financial situation facing the public.

A significant issue highlighted by auditors is the almost two years spent by officials to build a team to deliver it.

Mr Boyle said ministers should have addressed the capacity needs sooner. But since early 2023, “good progress” has been made in preparing to implement regulations.

Ministers have also been warned that success will depend on measures including providing financial support to homeowners and securing public finance and supply chain capacity.

The report noted the work for this is currently at an “early stage”, with officials told to increase the pace before legislation can be put to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Boyle said: “Getting most households in Scotland to change to low carbon heating systems is a huge challenge.

“It is complex and relies upon a range of stakeholders and partners, including the public, the private sector and the UK Government.

“The Scottish Government now needs to carefully consider how to maximise its public spending and set out a clear delivery plan. It also needs to help the private sector to roll out funding deals that will support people to change how they heat their homes.”

Meanwhile, the zero carbon buildings minister, Patrick Harvie, welcomed the report which acknowledged “good progress”.

But he said it “also rightly highlighted the huge scale of the challenge to move to clean heat in our homes.

“That challenge is a big part of our climate ambitions which were overwhelmingly supported by Parliament in 2019 and is also critical to a jobs and skills-rich future which frees people from the turbulence of global fossil fuel markets.”

“The end point is not in dispute. That is why we recently published ambitious policy proposals … that represent a step change in the way we heat our homes and buildings,” he added.

Scottish Tory net zero spokesman Douglas Lumsden said: “This is a damning verdict on Patrick Harvie’s shambolic plans, that will put enormous costs and conditions on Scottish households.

“Audit Scotland point out that the SNP-Green Government has no chance of meeting its own targets unless there is a substantial increase in pace and activity, and warns of significant risks ahead.

“This is despite years of preparation and an estimated final bill of £33 billion. It shows how detached from reality Patrick Harvie’s plans always were.

“Instead of a realistic strategy, Patrick Harvie is producing a hugely expensive timebomb for homeowners – and one which won’t be delivered, judging by the slow progress so far.”

Scottish Labour’s net zero spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said the report “lays bare the chaos” in the plans.

She added: “With energy bills soaring and fuel poverty rife, it is more urgent than ever that the SNP sets out a clear plan to upgrade homes and modernise heating systems.”

“Warm words don’t heat homes – the SNP must listen to Audit Scotland’s stark warning and set out a real plan to deliver on their promises,” she said.

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