One idea that could catch on here is the community purchase of energy – individually we may get regularly fleeced by the energy companies, but, a collective purchase of energy may mean that we can cut a better deal with the energy suppliers. The idea of collective buying of energy has been tried for the first time in Cornwall where it has saved households on average £130 per year on their fuel bills.
The scheme, Cornwall Together, aims to help households across the county save an estimated £3.7 million through cheaper energy tariffs. If things go according to plan it is hoped more than 20,000 people across Cornwall may be able to reduce their energy bills by 10-15%. This may be first time an entire community county has united to buy energy more cheaply, enabling it to also tackle economic problems, encourage environmental sustainability and improve people’s health and well-being.
Basically Residents register their interest with the scheme to find a cheaper energy tariff, providing details of their current fuel bills. Then Cornwall Together will negotiate on behalf of all those that have registered to get best value tariffs. As well as identifying best value deals, wherever possible a green energy option will be offered. For each energy switch, 10% of the total money saved will be put back into a fuel poverty fund which will benefit the whole county. Cornwall Together will then seek match-funding from other organisations.
The scheme was conceived by the Eden Project, Cornwall Together was originally pioneered by Cornwall Council, the NHS, Community Energy Plus and Community Buying UnLtd. They have been joined by delivery partners energyshare – the community renewable energy platform – and uSwitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. St Austell Brewery and Unison are also supporting the scheme, promoting it to their staff and also helping Cornwall Together reach vulnerable members of the community.
Collectively, Cornish households currently spend around £1.2 billion pounds on energy each year. According to the NHS approximately some 25% of these households in Cornwall are in fuel poverty. Across the UK the average household energy bill has risen by 140% a year since 2004 (from £ 522 to £ 1,254 pounds per year). Cornwall Together aims to secure cheaper energy bills for residents, helping to reduce fuel poverty in the county – and its associated health risks.
The idea of collective buying of energy may be catching on, as Consumer Futures (the new National Consumer Council) wants the Welsh government to promote collective switching to help fight fuelpoverty. Merthyr Valleys Housing is currently talking to its tenants about starting a scheme. While community purchasing of energy is not a perfect solution to the problem of high energy costs it may well be an idea that is coming into its own and may provide a degree of protection from the worst excesses of the alleged free market for energy.