HOMEOWNERS who do not to take action to improve the energy efficiency of their properties should be treated as criminals, one of the country's most influential environmentalists said last night.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, believes tough measures are needed to force people to cut their use of fossil fuels and thinks governments should consider making it a crime for members of the public not to take measures such as installing cavity wall insulation.
He also said he thought failing to put in energy efficiency measures was "as antisocial as drink driving".
Dr Dixon said: "I think it should be a crime to be wasting energy. It's clearly a moral crime against the climate, and I think we should be having a discussion about whether it should become an actual crime."
His controversial views came as it emerged that the Scottish Government's energy efficiency action plan – promised for six years – had been delayed again.
And The Scotsman has learned many Scots who want to help the environment by improving the energy efficiency of their homes are struggling due to a lack of advice and grants, and an inadequate planning system.
Dr Dixon branded the delays to the government's action plan "pathetic", and said it was time to "stir things up" so more action was taken on energy efficiency.
About 750,000 properties with cavity walls in Scotland have not been insulated to make them more energy efficient.
"We should be getting into the territory where we force people to do this (insulate their homes]," Dr Dixon said.
"Lots of people have done things voluntarily, such as changing their light bulbs. However, there are also a lot of people who can't be bothered.
"Making it compulsory would help to concentrate their minds. I think climate change is so serious that we need to start cracking down in a serious way. We need to start forcing people to do the right thing – not just encouraging them but actually forcing them."
The importance of improving energy efficiency was spelled out by the economist Nicholas Stern in his 2005 report for the government that assessed the economic challenges of climate change, and how they could be met, in the UK and globally.
He said up to 53 per cent of the reduction of emissions achievable by 2050 could be brought about by energy efficiency, and that it would also bring economic benefits.
Dr Dixon, who lives in a cottage in rural Perthshire that has double glazing and insulation, suggested the penalty for not having the likes of cavity wall insulation should be to have the work forcibly carried out, and then for the home owner to be landed with the bill. If that payment was added to people's energy bills, they would hardly notice it due to the money they would save as a result of greater energy efficiency, he said.
He added that a fine could also be a good idea, but he was "not suggesting we should send people to jail for wasting fossil fuels". However, prison is the ultimate penalty for the non-payment of fines.
Dr Dixon went on: "We have always felt people's houses are their castles and what they do is up to them. If they are destroying the planet, that's still up to them. I think that should no longer be the case."
The Scottish Government has announced plans to draw up a draft energy efficiency action plan this summer for consultation. It will be finalised by the end of the year. Ministers say they will welcome all contributions to the debate and that they look forward to receiving the views of interested parties.
A spokeswoman added that the Scottish Government was "making important progress in improving energy efficiency".
She highlighted the Home Reports introduced in December for all houses put on sale, which comprises an Energy Performance Certificate and Energy Report with recommendations on how to improve the property's energy efficiency.
The Scottish Government also announced proposals for the first stage of an ambitious area-based home insulation scheme, supported by 15 million of new funding plus 15 million from other sources.
Other environment groups told The Scotsman they would favour a softer approach to improving energy efficiency than that suggested by Dr Dixon, using encouragement and financial incentives rather than measures that make action compulsory.
Maf Smith, Scottish director of the Sustainable Development Commission, said he thought it would be better to use other methods. "I think we need to work much harder to make energy efficiency the done thing," he said.
"I think this should be done primarily through encouragement, or also by financial packages of low-interest loans."
He also thought minimum standards should be created for properties, to bring them up to higher energy efficiency standards.
Mr Smith criticised the "huge inertia that we seem to have as a society" when it comes to taking measures that would save us money in the long run.
He said as well as failing to improve the energy efficiency of homes, this could include not putting money in Isas, or saving in a pension scheme.
Dr Dixon told The Scotsman that he used energy efficient light bulbs, always opted for the most energy efficient appliances possible, and had spent the Christmas holiday renewing the draught-proofing on the doors in his home.
He added that he was not happy with the energy efficiency of his current oil-based heating system, and he said he was planning to talk to his landlord about whether solar panels could be fitted to the roof of his cottage.
He threw his support behind the European Union's recent ban on traditional incandescent light bulbs, which use up to five times as much energy as efficient bulbs, but he criticised how long it had taken.
He also said patio heaters were the "invention of the devil" and should become illegal.
In his ideal world, a licence would be needed to own a four-wheel-drive car – in a similar way as shotguns can be owned only by certain people.
Dr Dixon also said carbon rationing – whereby each member of the public is allowed a specific allowance of carbon emissions – should be considered.
Despite a recent survey showing the current economic crisis was top priority for many Scots, Dr Dixon did not think it should deter action on energy efficiency.
"Most things about energy efficiency save money in the long run," he said.
"Most of the answer to tightening your belt in the recession is to become more energy efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels."
Mike Thornton, the director of the Energy Saving Trust in Scotland, said he did not want to comment on Dr Dixon's ideas.
Six years on, Scotland still awaits delivery of key action plan
AN ENERGY efficiency action plan for Scotland has still not been delivered, six years after it was promised.
It is widely agreed that energy efficiency is potentially the biggest single source of emissions savings in the energy sector.
However, despite having targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, the government still has not drawn up a promised plan on how to deliver improvements.
The plan was first promised by the previous administration in 2003, and the SNP government said last year it would be in place by the end of 2008.
However, a notice has now been posted on the Scottish Government website saying it will be drawn up by the end of 2009.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, criticised the delay.
"I think it has clearly become an embarrassment, which is why they have been so coy about how they have publicised the new timeline," he said.
He said environment minister Richard Lochhead, when he was in opposition in 2006, had questioned the government about why the strategy had not appeared.
WWF Scotland has discovered that many people have been trying to make their homes more energy efficient, but have found it almost impossible because of a lack of advice, funding, or the planning system.
The environment charity wants the action plan to set targets for energy efficiency, and to outline a strategy for retro- fitting homes. Dr Dixon said the delay was "pathetic".
"Energy efficiency has always been the Cinderella of the energy world," he said.
"It's the thing that everyone thinks is most important but no-one wants to have a serious go at. I think it's primarily because it's not sexy.
"A minister can open a new wind farm, but it's very hard to open a very efficient house."
Maf Smith, Scottish director of the Sustainable Development Commission, agreed the energy efficiency action plan was "well overdue".
"We would hope that when it's published, it shows that the government has a comprehensive approach to tackling energy efficiency in Scotland," he said.
"Without this, it won't be able to meet the commitments under the climate change bill."
However, he defended the government's efforts in some areas of trying to tackle energy efficiency.
"Just because there isn't an action plan it doesn't mean things aren't being done," he said.
A Holyrood spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is committed to producing an energy efficiency action plan which will set out the policies and programmes being undertaken to improve the energy efficiency of all sectors."
She added that it was one of ten energy pledges and a proposed statutary requirement in the Scottish Climate Change Bill, which is progressing through parliament.
Families in different types of homes tell how difficult it is at present to go green
HAZEL Carnegie, a 61-year-old retiree, wanted to improve the insulation in her detached house in Bridge of Don.
She applied to her energy company for help but because the property was not suitable for cavity wall insulation, she got nowhere.
None of the energy suppliers were offering any help other than cavity wall and loft insulation, though many houses in Aberdeenshire are similar.
"This seemed unfair to me, so I contacted the Home Energy Conservation Officer at Aberdeen City Council," she said. She wrote to her MSPs, MP and to Ofgem but got nowhere.
In the end she had to pay 10,000 for insulation work to be done.
BOB Pringle, below, wanted to upgrade the insulation of his three-bedroom, semi-detached house in Aberdeen, but he had no idea how hard it would be to find advice. He contacted an energy efficiency advice centre and was sent leaflets that were almost impossible to understand, and had got nowhere after a year.
He said: "What would have been really nice is someone coming round to give me advice that applied to my situation. Someone who had the right knowledge to know where I should have begun – who would know what the best return would be in terms of improving energy efficiency for my investment. I would even have been happy to pay for this advice."
CHARLES Kennedy wanted to install solar water-heating panels on the roof of his top-floor tenement flat in Leith.
However, realising he would need to get the consent of his neighbours, he decided to seek advice as to the best way forward. He got in touch with an organisation that should have been able to help.
However, despite repeated efforts over five months, he did not receive any information.
"A major proportion of Edinburgh's housing stock is made up of tenement buildings and this information should be easily available," he said.
"I shouldn't have to spend time doing a huge amount of detective work to find out how to do this."
GINNY Slater, 43, above right, had heard there were all sorts of grants available to change boilers to more energy-efficient versions.
She wanted to change the oil-based heating system at her 200-year-old house in Spey Bay to a greener wood-burning one. She went to the Energy Savings Trust for advice.
"It turns out that the whole grant system is some kind of a joke. People like me just aren't eligible – even though I have a comparatively low income and two young children to support. It's just based on how old you are – and you have to be pretty old to qualify."
But what surprised and angered Ginny most of all were the barriers she found for anyone looking for a grant.
STEVE Finney, a 43-year-old university lecturer, wanted to take advantage of the south-facing roof of his house in Biggar and install a solar panel for hot water. But his application was turned down on the grounds that the solar panels would be "visually intrusive". It was also turned down on appeal, despite letters of support from local MSPs.
He wants legislation changes so people living in conservation areas can do more to reduce their home carbon emissions.
JENNI Johnson discovered a beautiful stone cottage to rent in Perth. However, when winter struck, the 38-year-old secretary realised it was far from ideal. The radiators are heated from a back boiler on a coal fire, meaning it takes an hour for the water to heat up and circulate around the radiators.
She thinks there should be higher standards for landlords who want to rent out buildings.