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Letters to the Editor

19 February 2021

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Energy tariffs and carbon footprint

From Mr Stephen Thomas

Sir, — Your report on the C of E’s carbon footprint unfortunately provides a misleading view of the environmental benefits when churches switch to a renewable tariff (News, 12 February). A renewable tariff does not make any difference in the short term to the carbon footprint of a church.

Renewable and other low-carbon supplies already operate at their highest output whenever possible, as this minimises the carbon footprint for the national grid as a whole. When electricity is supplied under a renewable tariff, there is a guarantee that a matched amount of renewable electricity is fed into the grid at some point. This renewable electricity is already being produced, however, and would otherwise be allocated to the general fuel mix if not required for a renewable tariff.

If all C of E churches were to switch to renewable-electricity tariffs, this would not “cut 36,000 tonnes of carbon each year”: it would simply change how the carbon is allocated between different customers, with no benefit whatsoever to the environment. Even in the longer term, there are only small benefits arising directly from renewable tariffs. The OFGEM consultation on the Tariff Cap stated that the main drivers for renewable investment were subsidies and regulatory obligations, not renewable tariffs. A small benefit is, however, better than nothing; so churches should definitely switch tariffs to support companies that are investing more in new renewable capability and energy storage.

Nevertheless, even taking a longer-term view, renewable electricity cannot be regarded as zero carbon in the current energy market. Using a unit of renewable electricity will perhaps contribute to an additional 0.1 to 0.2 units of low-carbon energy from investment in new renewable capability. Netting off carbon by 10-20 per cent is justified, but definitely not 100 per cent. Customers, therefore, should still make all efforts to reduce electricity consumption, even when supplied on a renewable tariff.

These considerations are important for churches looking to switch from a gas boiler to an electric heat pump. The additional electricity to drive a heat pump will in most geographical areas come from increased output from burning fossil fuel, given that renewables are usually operating at their maximum output. This results in a carbon footprint of roughly 400 g/kWh, assuming electricity is generated by a gas power station. A heat pump often achieves limited performance in a poorly insulated historic church building where the heating-water temperature needs to be high, perhaps 70ºC. Typical pump performance is a factor of two under these conditions; so this leads to an effective carbon footprint of 200 g/kWh, about the same as a modern condensing gas boiler.

This footprint will not decrease until the electricity in the local grid is genuinely 100 per cent renewable at the point of use, with the extra power required for the pump coming from an increase in output from renewable sources. If the local-grid energy mix has to include fossil fuels, this is because the renewable supply is inadequate or too unstable. The increase in output to supply the pump is then likely to be from burning more fossil fuel, with the correspondingly large carbon footprint.

Heat pumps are, therefore, unlikely to deliver genuine carbon benefits in historic buildings for many years to come, certainly not on the timescale of 2030, the C of E target for net-zero carbon. Energy efficiency and carbon offsetting are the only ways to achieve net zero on this timescale, and this must include offsetting for electricity even when it is supplied on a renewable tariff.

26 St Amand Drive
Oxfordshire OX14 5RG


Today’s management of the Church of England

From Mr Patrick Kidd

Sir, — I was disappointed by the tone of Andrew Brown’s Press column (Media, 12 February) on recent criticism of the Church of England in The Spectator. The Church is more than just the opinions of those in purple shirts. Since I have been privately informed that The Spectator had its largest postbag for a long time on this subject, it seems clear that there is substantial concern among worshippers.

These are not, contrary to the needless rebuke of the Archbishops in their Spectator reply, “rascally voices who want to undermine the church”, but people who have given significant time, money, and emotional energy to supporting something that they love, and do not feel the support in return. This criticism may feel unfair or uncharitable, considering the many good works done by the Church without coverage, but it should not be dismissed as mere trouble-making.

Mr Brown is right to observe that debate should be conducted with facts rather than emotions. Perhaps he could address, therefore, the Archbishops’ demi-truth in asserting in the Spectator that they “share the anger and frustration felt by some that the government ordered public worship to be suspended” last year.

It was not the Government who ordered that churches be closed for private prayer, or who banned clergy from going into their own buildings. It was not the government who threatened clergy with disciplinary measures if they did so, while some bishops hypocritically still travelled by train to London to speak in the House of Lords. It was not the Government who told the Archbishop of Canterbury to broadcast his Easter message from his kitchen, or who decided, after lockdown restrictions had been eased, to confirm the Archbishop of York in a Zoom service that had all the solemnity of a bored parish-council meeting, when 15 people could have gathered quite safely in York Minster.

And it is not the Government who, having devolved decision-making for being open during the third lockdown to parishes, send passive-aggressive emails to churches that have decided, after a risk-assessment, that it is safe to hold services, telling them they should join the flight online. I wish that the Archbishops could acknowledge the “anger and frustration” of people like us, who feel that at a time of crisis, when there was an opportunity to provide comfort to people, they appeared to deem that keeping churches open was not essential.

Churchwarden, All Saints’, Blackheath
97 Greenvale Road
London SE9 1PE


From the Revd John Tattersall

Sir, — I was saddened to find myself disagreeing profoundly with Canon Angela Tilby’s column (Comment, 12 February), as I normally enjoy and agree with the sentiments that she expresses so articulately.

When leading briefings and consultations as chair of the diocesan board of finance for Oxford diocese, I am regularly challenged by the volunteers to whom she refers about whether we are applying good business principles in our stewardship of diocesan resources. They recognise that the Church does have to adapt itself to the changing world around it, and that the application of business principles is likely to be the only way in which it can achieve change effectively. That does not make it into a business.

I well remember my first chapter meeting as a deacon, when all members were asked by our new diocesan Bishop what we thought the Church should do differently. I rather rashly answered first that the Church needed to learn how to change more quickly, drawing on my experience of many years as a partner in a major professional-services firm.

The next answer, from a longstanding and well-respected licensed lay minister, put me in my place, when he responded that the Church needed to stop changing things. But I remain convinced that the Church will need to change ever more rapidly to keep up with change in the world around it, particularly in the post-Covid era, and that it does need staff at diocesan level to drive and manage such change. Our hard-pressed bishops and archdeacons cannot manage it all.

Owing to the generosity of current and past congregation members in Oxford diocese, we do not yet need to start cutting clergy numbers; but that does not mean that clergy may not need to be deployed differently, or that we should not consider afresh how to use the Church’s resources more generally. Most clergy in my experience want to be working where they are most needed. The volunteers who so generously support our diocese would not settle for less.

Abingdon House, Park Lane
Swalcliffe, Banbury OX15 5EU


Village schools and the pandemic and children

From the Revd Mark Bailey

Sir, — A result of reorganisation and the inevitable enlarging of benefices in the countryside will be the impact on many village C of E primary schools. Rural communities often pride themselves on the church school at the heart of so much of their shared life. As an incumbent, and therefore ex-officio foundation governor, who takes his responsibility for two schools very seriously, I wonder how many church schools one priest can reasonably be asked to engage with properly.

Ethos, collective worship, governance, and energy put into fostering a fruitful relationship with the church is a very time-consuming business, but necessary if the Church at large is to trumpet being at the forefront of educating the next generation. Dioceses may wish to weigh carefully the responsibility of being a foundation governor alongside the post of incumbent before including yet another village with another school in any newly created cure.

The Rectory, 6 Green Close
South Wonston
Winchester SO21 3EE


From the Revd Judi Hattaway

Sir, — This is a plea to diocesan directors of ordinands and bishops considering the moves of curates and others over the next months and years.

It is now accepted that children and young people have suffered life-changing educational, social, physical, mental, and (possibly) spiritual losses attributable to the pandemic. Some will never recover what they have lost. Please will those responsible for clergy appointments pay very particular attention to the needs and desires of children and young people, that their voices are not drowned out?

Those concerned with the placement of curates should assure themselves that the well-being of children and young people remains paramount. Changes of home, school, friendship groups, and social activities must be given high priority. Ways must be found to adjust to this new landscape if the Church is not to be guilty of ignoring those who have had no say in how their lives have been affected for so long.

15 Rayner Drive, Arborfield
Berkshire RG2 9FB


Cast pastoral net wider

From Miss Primrose Peacock

Sir, — Three cheers for Margaret Fryer, her lovely knitted coat, and the older lady she is visiting (News, 12 February). If more people followed this example from Weston super Mare, there would be fewer old, isolated, lonely, and disabled people — sometimes without TV or a computer — surprised by the lack of interest from what are supposed to be Christian organisations.

As matters are, requests for help to clergy or churchwardens are frequently responded to by talk about transitory “bubbles” or “No one here wants to do that.” Unfortunately, often so.

4 Crescent Rise
Truro TR1 3ER

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