Fuel Poverty Awareness Day marks the end of the annual Warm Homes Campaign by the national fuel poverty charity, National Energy Action (NEA) and 361 Energy CIC organised an event at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford on Friday 23rd February 2018. About 30 to 40 front line workers, councillors and members of the public came along to hear presentations from Louise Evans, South West Project Development Co-ordinator at NEA, Nicola Corrigan, Chair of 361 Energy CIC and Councillor Joe Day from Bideford Town Council.

Louise Evans explained the background to Fuel Poverty Awareness Day and told the audience that 11.4% of households in the South West are fuel poor. A new report published by NEA shows that over the last five years there has been an average of 32,000 excess winter deaths in the UK every year. Of these, 9,700 are estimated to die due to a cold home – similar to the number who die from breast or prostate cancer each year. This is the sixth worst long-term rate of excess winter mortality out of 30 European countries. When taking cold weather into account beyond just the winter months, the UK has the second worst rate. These are preventable deaths as UK homes are among the least energy efficient in Europe.

Nicola Corrigan, Chair of 361 Energy CIC described the situation locally. In the North Devon Council area the fuel poverty rate is 13.1%, while in the Torridge District Council area the average rate is even worse at 14.2%. In some wards however, it rises to as high as 22.3%. Typically homes off the gas grid face higher energy costs and are often older homes with poorer insulation.

361 Energy has been helping local residents switch to cheaper electricity suppliers and tariffs, replace prepayment meters with credit meters, apply for the Warm Home Discount and for grants for insulation and boilers as well as addressing fuel and water debt. Since September 2016, the organisation has saved local residents nearly £100,000. The work has been funded by grants from organisations like the Ebico Trust and NEA.

Councillor Joe Day from Bideford Town Council made a presentation about the community solar project that has been a collaboration between 361 Energy, Bideford Town Council and Communities for Renewables CIC. This has investigated the potential for installing solar panels on community buildings and businesses in and around Bideford, funded by a community share issue. The idea behind this scheme is that the building owner benefits from cheaper electricity, share holders get a return on their investment and a community benefit fund is generated, which can finance projects such as those addressing fuel poverty. A feasibility study is being prepared by Communities for Renewables CIC, but community solar has been more challenging in recent years due to cuts in the feed-in tariff. It is hoped that a viable portfolio of solar PV installations can be achieved.

At the end of the event, the Mayor of Bideford, Dermot McGeough presented 361 Energy with their ‘Warm and Safe at Home Innovation Award’ from NEA. This is for a project that 361 Energy will be working on over the coming year.

We would like to thank all those who came to the event and Natasha Quarmby, who was our photographer at the event.