Parishes feel the pressure as energy bills soar

RISE IN ENERGY COSTS leave churches with a choice between keeping their buildings open to community groups or paying their fuel bills next winter.

Churches and associations are not subject to the cap on energy bills and most are classified as businesses for their tariffs, which means they have not been protected against price increases.

Churches report huge bill increases; some clergy say it made them sick with stress (News, June 24). A deputy vicar has joined the Don’t Pay UK campaign, which is urging people to cancel their direct debit payments for energy bills.

Among those facing soaring costs is the Reverend Andy Fitchet of Andover Methodist Church. He reported that his bill had risen from £70 a month last July to £1,000 a month a year later; he feared it would soar to £4,000 in the winter months. He said he had no idea how the church was going to pay for his energy and felt sick about the impending bills.

He called for the introduction of a social tariff for the non-profit sector to protect organizations serving the community.

The Vicar of St Mary’s, Wendover, in the Diocese of Oxford, the Reverend Sally Moring, has just renewed her electricity and gas contract; the bill has risen by £14,000, from £8,428 in the past 12 months to a forecast of £22,500 for next year.

She only had five hours to decide whether or not to accept the quote because prices were so volatile. Several companies declined to quote altogether, she said.

The CCP is now desperate to save money and is starting by installing LED lights throughout the building to cut costs.

“We have always been able to pay our parish share which is substantial, but this increase is huge,” Ms Moring said. “I am also the dean of the region and I am concerned that other churches may not be able to pay their parish share.

“St Mary’s is used by a lot of bands, that’s what we want; but we will probably have to charge them a little more. We wanted to be a warm space for people this winter, but we will have to see if we can afford to keep the church at a level where it would be comfortable for people.

“For us, the choice will be between keeping the church warm enough for the mid-week activities that are important to our young families – we have a thriving toddler group one morning a week – and more older members, who come for midweek communion and coffee, tea dances and U3A meetings, and pay the bills.

The assistant parish priest of St Mary’s, Addington, in Croydon, the Reverend Mo Budd, has joined the Don’t Pay UK movement. More than 100,000 people have signed up to cancel their direct debits from energy companies, in protest at rising prices as companies make record profits.

She said The temperature that she was acting “in solidarity with the most vulnerable in my community”.

One church, St George’s, Rugby, hopes to cut energy costs by installing heat pumps and insulating the church hall. Congregation member Phil Hemsley, who is also part of the Church of England’s energy advisory group, said there were ‘engineering solutions’ available to churches to reduce energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions.

“We had solar panels installed this year and we are currently exporting energy. The Church Commissioners have released money for carbon dioxide reduction measures, which is very positive, and my diocese, Coventry, has voted in favor of increases in green funding; so there are a lot of positive signs.

“Much of the church’s expenses are on the parish’s share. Our diocese is already helping those who cannot afford to pay their parish share. We won’t see churches go bankrupt; but it is likely that the dioceses will have to absorb the underfunding from the parish.

“We have more projects in the church to reduce carbon, which will bring our prices back to what they were before the increase. We are considering an air-to-air heat pump, which would significantly reduce our energy consumption, and the insulation of our church hall, which would cut its energy costs in half. We receive help from the county council and the diocese for these projects. If you have the human energy, it is possible to find the funds.

“I’m very aware that it’s very worrying for people, but there are technical solutions if people are willing to find them.”

High prices were the only lever to force people to review their energy consumption, he said. “The biggest crisis we have is global warming. If that inspires people to reduce their energy use, well, that’s why people stuck to the freeways.

“Encourage the Church Commissioners to take further action – they have taken a step in the right direction, but they must keep moving forward.

“The only incentive in today’s world to reduce carbon dioxide is cost, and that could be a tipping point in the right direction,” he said.

A spokesperson for Church House said: ‘There are concerns about the impact of rising energy costs over the coming year for churches, particularly those most vulnerable to a severe increase in their bills. We are monitoring the situation closely and continue to work with churches to help them reduce their energy consumption and improve their energy efficiency as part of our Net Zero program.

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