Fuel Poverty Awareness Day reignites gas connections debate

UK gas distribution networks have called for amendments to the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) so that it can be used to fund connections to the gas grid for the fuel poor.

The request comes on the back of a new report, commissioned by the networks, and delivered by fuel poverty charity, National Energy Action.

The report, titled In from the Cold argues that almost 10,000 vulnerable households in the UK would achieve £142m in lifetime savings on energy bills if government included a fund of £37.5m under the next phase of Eco for gas grid connections.

The report’s publication coincides with Fuel Povert Awareness Day.

It was recently confirmed that government will extend the Eco scheme – which is designed to deliver energy efficiency measures in low income households – from April 2017 to September 2018.

The extended scheme will include some modifications which government said reflect an increased focus on fuel poverty.

Labour’s shadow energy minister Alan Whitehead responded to the reforms by saying he was “desperately disappointed” however. He insisted the rhetoric around fuel poverty was a “conjuring trick” designed to hide diminished budgets for implementing measures.

NEA’s report says that recent changes to the Eco scheme fall short of providing sufficient funds for central heating for homes in fuel poverty that are off the gas grid.

In January this year, the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) also called for gas grid connections to be funded via Eco as well as advocating an end to the cap on the number of new connections which can be delivered through the Fuel Poor Network Extension Scheme (FPNES). This scheme is currently the primary tool for enabling the connection of low income households to the gas grid.

EUA said that connecting off-grid customer and installing first time gas central heating could save a typical household £922 a year.

A representative from the Committee on Fuel Poverty told Utility Week, however, that he did not think Eco should be used to fund gas grid connections.

Paul Massara said he favoured amendments to the FPNES instead.

Following the publication of the network commissioned NEA report, Energy Networks Association chief executive David Smith said: “On Fuel Poverty Awareness Day we ask that the Government seriously consider the conclusions and recommendations in the report in time for the upcoming Budget and help make a real difference to thousands of households who potentially miss out under supplier led schemes.” 

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