Plans to encourage the use of heat networks across Scotland have been unanimously backed by the Scottish Parliament.
Heat networks are distribution system of insulated pipes that carry hot water and steam from a central source to homes and businesses, and can be powered by renewable energy or surplus heat sources.
The sector is currently unregulated and Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse has proposed a bill that aims to increase their use to help tackle climate change and fuel poverty.
Opening the stage one debate on the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill, Mr Wheelhouse said: “Heat networks, when deployed in suitable areas, have many benefits and the most important of which may be their capacity to remove the emissions caused by heating our buildings and to reduce bills, helping to tackle fuel poverty.
“The committee on climate change, along with other key actors in the sector, has advised us that there is real scope for making far-greater use of renewable and low carbon heat networks.
“With the opportunity this technology presents, the overall aim of the bill is to accelerate the development of heat networks in Scotland and, in turn, drive down emissions and to tackle fuel poverty.
“The bill seeks to do this by creating a new licencing regime to ensure operators are solvent, fit and proper, while driving up standards across the sector as well.”
He added: “I believe the bill is an important step in supporting the deployment of heat networks at the scale which is needed to help us reach our net-zero carbon targets.
“The bill will provide confidence for consumers investors and supply chain, creating a sustainable market for district heating.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett welcomed a bill on heat networks but said the government’s proposal for a “third party supply of last resort” and the financial risk required, which he warned could be passed on to consumers.
He said: “I hope that the minister will significantly improve his knowledge of how such systems are built and do everything in his power to ensure his legacy is not the death knell for consumers and developers of heating networks.
“But despite the many reservations with the bill, it must become one that will increase heat networks and protect consumers, so it must be welcomed and we will be supporting it at stage one.”
Scottish Labour’s Claudia Beamish said: “Consideration must be given to a just transition, as well to ensuring that the skills and knowledge are in place to respond and expand the sector includes the skills to develop technology, install and maintain it.
“Given the benefits that this could bring in reducing domestic fuel costs, it is a relief that the minister has today agreed that fuel poverty will be on the face of the bill.”
Mr Wheelhouse also said he would seek to amend the bill at stage two to allow the responsibility for the awarding of heat network consent to be transferred from the Scottish Government to local authorities if individual councils want it.
But Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman said it should go further and “resume as a default that local government be the competent authority, unless it decides not to be” as well as considering following Denmark’s not-for-profit system.