Ministers are poised to delay plans to start requiring householders to replace their fossil fuel run boilers with heat pumps, or other green energy systems, from as early as 2025, The Herald on Sunday can reveal.

It is understood the existing time for the phase out to start in just over 13 months is expected to be shelved in a Scottish Government consultation on proposals for legislation to be published before the end of this month.

Nicola Sturgeon's government in its 2021 Heat in Buildings Strategy, published in the wake of the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and Scottish Greens, set a start point to phase out fossil fuel boilers from off grid homes from 2025 and from homes connected to the gas mains from 2030. 

READ MORE: Ewing leads MSPs call to Harvie to drop heat pump plan for rural homes

The strategy, unveiled by Patrick Harvie, the minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants' rights, stated: "Our commitment to phasing out the need to install new or replacement fossil fuel boilers in off gas properties from 2025, and in on gas areas from 2030.”

Asked about whether the original start points would be included in the consultation, a source said: "This is unlikely to be in the consultation in this form. The strategy explored 2025 and 2030 as the starting points for phasing in compliance with the zero emissions heat standard in off-grid and on-grid areas, with the backstop date of 2045 applying to all."

Since the strategy was published it was thought it would be better to have a single year for the phased switch over and that the legislative timescale alone would mean that a 2025 start date would not be possible.

READ MORE: Scottish ministers propose gas boilers ban in new buildings from 2024

It is not clear what the proposed year for the start of the phase out will be in the consultation, which is expected to form the basis of the Heat in Buildings Bill.

In August this year Fergus Ewing was among several MSPs to write to Mr Harvie with concerns with the strategy arguing some 170,000 off grid properties would not be suitable to have heat pumps fitted.

The consultation is to stick to commitments for two main targets from the 2021 strategy - for all homes to reach a good level of energy efficiency by 2033 "where feasible and cost-effective"; and "almost all homes" to be heated by climate-friendly heating systems by 2045. Targets are to be set out for along the way. 

A ban on gas boilers in new build properties will go ahead from spring next year after regulations were passed at Holyrood this year. It will apply to properties with a building warrant received from April 2024.

The scrapping of the start of the phase out in 2025 is the latest policy which originated under Ms Sturgeon's administration to be changed by Humza Yousaf's ministers.

READ MORE: Poll: Majority of Scots fear household costs of net zero transition

It follows the abandonment of plans to extend marine conservation zones - or highly protected marine areas - which would have placed greater restrictions on fishing; a ban on alcohol advertising and the shelving of the deposit return scheme (DRS). 

The Scottish Government delayed the DRS several times before putting it on hold indefinitely - blaming the UK Government for not giving an exemption to the Internal Market Act which would have allowed the scheme to include glass containers which Scottish ministers wanted.

The Herald: An air source heat pumpPolling has shown that many households are worried about the cost of installing heat pumps. Photo PA.

The 2021 Heat in Buildings Strategy also stated: "We must rapidly scale up deployment of zero emissions heating systems so that by 2030 over 1 million homes...are converted to zero emissions heat."

It is not clear if this target will remain in the Scottish Government's consultation.

Currently just 11% of Scottish homes are powered by electricity. Heat pumps are currently the most well known zero emissions heating systems installed in Scotland. By end of 2022, Scotland had a total of just 18,072 heat pumps installed in homes. Some 5,149 new heat pumps were installed in 2022, according to official figures.

“These were always entirely unrealistic targets that would have piled huge costs and restrictions on ordinary households," said Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport Douglas Lumsden MSP.

READ MORE: SNP-Green Government poised to delay climate change plan

“But while it’s welcome that the SNP-Green government is now dropping these proposals, it’s yet another example of them talking up grand environmental ambitions, and miserably failing to deliver on them.

“The truth is that they have no practical and pragmatic plan for moving towards net zero and, despite having thrown the oil and gas industry under the bus, have nothing to offer as a workable alternative.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: “These revelations represent a substantial and worrying downgrade of key climate commitments.   
“When it comes to decarbonising homes and reducing fuel poverty, it seems that the SNP/Green government is happy to go slow." 

The Herald: Former rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing urged Patrick Harvie to drop the heat pump plan for rural and island homes in August.  Photo PA.

He added: “We know that installing heat pumps and phasing out gas boilers are vital in enhancing energy efficiency and bringing down bills. Heat pumps, for instance, often work more efficiently in island communities such as Orkney, where residents live off the mains-gas grid.  

“I would urge SNP and Green ministers to clearly explain why they have chosen to step back from these targets and to set out a detailed plan for how they propose to meet the climate emergency with the meaningful response it requires.”  

A Scottish Government spokesman told The Herald that ministers are to shortly publish a consultation for proposals that could be included in the Heat in Buildings Bill.

The Herald: Patrick Harvie is the the minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants' rights and co-leader of the Scottish Greens. 

He said: “We will be consulting shortly on proposals that could form part of a Heat in Buildings Bill, to help deliver our commitment to be a net zero country by 2045 and reduce the exposure felt by households and businesses to volatile fossil fuel prices. 

“In preparing this consultation we will build on the aims set out in our 2021 Heat in Buildings Strategy – the two main targets of which remain for all homes to reach a good level of energy efficiency by 2033 where feasible and cost-effective, and for almost all homes to be heated by climate-friendly heating systems by 2045, with clear steps along the way. 

“We will also take account of the need to protect people from unacceptable short-term costs, and the need to achieve our goal of reducing emissions at the same as supporting people facing wider financial pressures that have developed since the strategy was published.

“The proposals for a Heat in Buildings Bill will form only one part of a wider package to support the heat transition, with other measures including new standards developed in partnership with social landlords, a grants and loans offer which is the most generous in the UK, and a new build standard going live next April. And at the same time we have set out what the UK Government needs to do to support the transition, including reducing the price gap between gas and electricity, regulating suppliers and products and making sure the electricity grid keeps up with demand."   

A poll published last month found a majority of Scots fear the costs to their own household budgets for the country to reach net zero.

Research for Consumer Scotland, the statutory and independent body for consumers, found that two thirds of adults are concerned about the expense of big ticket green items such as heat pumps.

It noted that industry put the cost for an air source heat pump installation on a new build property at between £8,000 to £16,000 and potentially as much as £28,000 on an existing property. It said the latter figure is "at the top end of estimates" and would include upgrading radiators and replacing pipework.

The Home Energy Scotland Grant and Loan scheme can help with the cost of installing both heat pumps and energy efficiency improvements. Grant funding for heat pumps is up to £7,500 or £9,000 for households which qualify for a rural uplift. Up to a further £7,500 is available as an interest-free loan.

The Heat in Buildings Strategy estimated that undertaking energy efficiency upgrades and installing low carbon heating systems in homes and non domestic buildings could cost around £33 billion over the period to 2045.

The Scottish and UK governments have both made commitments to achieving net zero emissions so that by 2045 in Scotland (2050 in the rest of the UK) the country will no longer be adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.