Poverty campaigners have criticised a potential rise in electricity prices in The Western Isles, after Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) revealed that the government could force them to raise charges.
The energy giant says a change in Scottish Government policy means it could have no choice but to pass the burden of higher maintainance costs onto the consumer. The firm is deciding whether to first take the matter to regulator Ofgem.
Poverty action groups in the Western Isles are already up-in-arms over yet further price hikes on the Islands.
The Western Isles Poverty Group echoes concerns over unfair costs, focussing on the impact higher charges will have on residents.
The group’s chairman, Angus McCormack, said: “This is really quite absurd. Is it possible that the Scottish Government wishes to add a further surcharge to island consumers?
“There is little doubt that the present surcharge is leading directly to the 71 percent of people in fuel poverty in the islands. Does the Scottish Government through SSE, wish to increase that number?”
SSE told The Gazette that changes in government policy mean higher maintenance costs for the sub-sea cables that deliver power to The Islands. The company points to The National Marine Plan, a policy Holyrood says will ensure better management and environmental protection for the marine industry.
An SSE spokeswoman said: “Early on this year, Marine Scotland introduced a plan which changes how seabed cables are maintained. “This could significantly raise our maintenance costs if it goes ahead.
“We are consulting with stakeholders and the public and may take their concerns to Ofgem.”
The energy firm says costs would have to be passed on to customers if the government insists that it must invest more in maintenance for sub-sea cables.
But SSE is keen to stress that the higher cost will be shared amongst all its 750,000 customers over theNorthern Scotland network it operates.
The United Kingdom’s combined length of submarine cables stretches 280 miles, homes and business on 59 Scottish islands depend on them for power. The cost conveyed by the submarine network has always been shared proportionally in utility bills across Northern Scotland.
But the burden of higher maintainance costs creates the potential for a long-running issue over who should pay to maintain the cables - some are over 50 years old,
SSE rules out shouldering the burden without passing the charges on to customers, with their spokeswoman saying: “We are a business and we wouldn’t be in business if we accepted all the costs.”
The Scottish Governmentment’s position looks unlikely to change, but SSE will still hold talks. Consultations end October 13.