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Churches struggle with heating bills during energy crisis

22 October 2021


CHURCH heating bills are doubling in some parishes as a result of the energy crisis, leaving some churches struggling. Experts are warning of more rises to come.

As prices for domestic customers and industry soar globally, the UK is one of the hardest-hit countries, owing to dwindling North Sea supplies and limited gas storage. Churches are not protected by the domestic energy cap, which limits rises for domestic customers.

An example is St George’s, Rugby, which is expecting to pay £10,000 for gas and electricity next year: double its previous year’s bills.

St George’s is one of those having to renew its contracts for electricity and gas now, leaving it prey to soaring prices and the volatility in the market, which is making it difficult to find fixed-rate contracts.

The church is also switching to a renewable tariff, as part of its commitment to net zero, but it found that there was little difference between a green and standard tariff, said Phil Hemsley, who is also a member of the Church of England’s energy advisory group.

“We are due to renew, and are facing a more than doubling in gas and electricity costs for the church and church hall. We expect to pay £10,000 next year, though, as we are buying solar panels, thanks to a grant from the council, we hope we might be able to reduce it to £8000.”

He said that many other churches were struggling with rising bills, and some had had to turn off all heating apart from pew heaters for services. He called on the Church Commissioners to step in to help churches to invest in renewable energy.

“The Church of England should be funding net-zero projects; there is no central support for parishes to do that,” he said. “It feels plain wrong to have to go cap in hand to secular authorities when the Church Commissioners are sitting on billions. It is very discouraging for churches when you hear of the billions made by the Church Commissioners, and the fact they are still investing in fossil fuels.

“People in our churches are really stressed about the rising bills and what to do. We are told to keep our heaters on in the background, even in churches where the church is only used a few hours a week, and that is ridiculous. Everybody is struggling.”

Chelmsford Cathedral, which recently won a gold Eco Church award for its efforts to support sustainability and be carbon-neutral by 2030 (News, 8 October), renegotiated its fixed-term contracts six months in advance, which proved to be “fortunate timing”, the cathedral’s chief finance officer, Caroline Robinson, said. The switch to a renewable tariff was no higher than their previous tariff, and the switchover to LED lighting will reduce the bill further, as LED bulbs consume about one quarter of the energy of standard bulbs.

The gas and electricity bill for the cathedral, which has underfloor heating, is about £21,000 a year. Funding for the fitting of the LED lights has come from the Friends of the Cathedral.

Despite the cap, price rises in the energy market are expected to hit domestic users. The energy adviser for Christians Against Poverty, Paul Walmsley, said that he expected another rise in six months, and another in a year’s time, and called for more to be done to support low-income households.

“People are worrying a lot about the price hikes alongside the cut in Universal Credit,” he said. “But so many people are affected by energy rises, not just those we advise. A huge proportion of people will be impacted.

“We work with people who are moving on from having a budget that was tight, to one that is completely unsustainable; who are having to choose between whether to have no internet, eat, or no heating. It’s heartbreaking. It’s very hard to plan and budget, as energy companies aren’t making any guarantees at the moment due to the volatility. More needs to be done for low-income households.”

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