Banding together to pull the plug on big fuel bills

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When the temperatures fall – our heating bills go up. But one way to keep the costs down is by bulk buying. Eddy Murray looks at the proposed Warwickshire energy plan covering energy security, cutting fuel poverty and renewable energy.

* With claims that energy firms are not passing on the falls in wholesale energy prices to consumers – one way to reduce bills could be collective buying.

Residents banding together to buy their fuel is one of the options being explored by Warwickshire County Council in the formulation of a county energy plan.

It could see the county and/or district councils signing up residents for a collective scheme – with the larger the number getting a bigger discount.

Many households are classed as living in fuel poverty in Warwickshire, where they have to spend more than 10 per cent of their household income on fuel. The Government defines adequate levels of warmth in the home as 21C/23C in the main living areas and 18C in other areas.

Leamington Labour county councillor Mat Western jointly proposed the formulation of a Warwickshire energy plan.

He said it has cross-party support and had unanimous support at a recent county council meeting.

He said: “We do have significant areas of the county in fuel poverty – some of the hardest hit are in Leamington.”

It is estimated 27,200 are affected in Warwickshire and Public Heath Warwickshire’s said 310 people “died prematurely” in the winter of 
2012-13.

“You have areas with low income where it’s a choice between heating or eating,” said Cllr Western.

He said bulk-buying of energy for residents was already operating in mainland Europe and Great Britain, including Plymouth and Lincolnshire.

In Lincolnshire the average saving per household to take up the offer was £234.

“We could negotiate a price for hundreds or possibly thousands of households. The bigger the scheme, the bigger the discount.

“We are looking to go to every provider and negotiate a good price on a volume basis.”

And those not on mains gas could also benefit from heating oil bulk-buying schemes.

The energy plan could also include turning all county council buildings into energy producers by fitting such things as solar panels and small wind turbines.

Schools would also be encouraged to fit such items and Cllr Western said plans for the new Aylesford primary school in Warwick will include solar panels.

“It’s not a plan for one year or five years, but a long-term plan. We need to improve energy efficiency in homes and reduce energy poverty.

“We expect energy at the flick of a switch, and relying on imports from such places as Russia, we have to be careful. We have to think about energy security.”

An energy plan will also include “schemes for macro energy production,” which include solar and wind farms.

Although Cllr Western would not be drawn on the many contentious plans for wind and solar farms in south Warwickshire, he said one example was a solar farm on a former landfill site near Rugby.

And although electricity pylons are not picturesque, they are necessary, adding: “There are things on our landscape which are important to our infrastructure.”

An energy plan will also include schemes to encourage more people to make use of grants and Government schemes for insulation.