Council HQ demo planned over ‘extortionate’ heating bills from green energy product

A campaign group is set to stage a protest at Falkirk Council HQ amid fears families may be forced out of their council homes this winter by ‘extortionate’ heating bills caused by a controversial ‘green’ energy project.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 12:30 pm

It is urging people to join the rally on Monday led by Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages – Ending Fuel Poverty which was started by Claire Mackie and Fiona Gordon after a price hike in 2019 saw bills shoot up by 52 per cent.

The impact has hit tenants with Thermaflow systems – which heat both hot water and provide heating – installed in hundreds of homes in Limerigg, Slamannan, Avonbridge, California, Whitecross and Letham around ten years ago.

Residents found they were locked into a tariff with Scottish Power – and the boilers are now so expensive to run that some people are having to choose between heating their homes and buying food.

Falkirk's Forgotten Villages Ending Fuel Poverty group meeting with Falkirk Council officials in 2019. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

Members of the campaign group are furious that Falkirk Council is backtracking on its pledge to install mains gas to the 781 homes affected.

Residents are regularly paying more than £120 a week and bills of around £600 a month – more than £7200 a year – are the norm.

And another price hike in October has left many wondering how on earth they will manage.

One resident, who asked not to be named, said the issue was causing problems for her in looking after her disabled son, and admitted she ‘feared the winter’.

“I spend between £120 and £150 a week on electricity and I also use a calor gas heater,” she said.

“I have a disabled child who has spinal problems so is often in a lot of pain and I have to massage him. That’s why we have the calor gas heater but we use a full bottle of gas in three of four days and it costs £42, and that’s on top of the electricity.

“When I heard that the houses were going to get gas that gave us some hope but now I feel that’s come to nothing.”

And even those who can cover the cost of the bills find that the energy costs leave them with little left to spend on anything else.

Whitecross residents, Brian and Wendy Womble, have decided they can no longer have their young grandchildren to stay during winter months – and they are on the brink of moving.

Despite paying £120 to £150 every week for electricity and heating, they say the house is never warm and as both suffer ill-health they can no longer cope.

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Brian said: “We sit here in jammies, a onesie, a dressing gown and a duvet and we’re still not warm – but it’s not funny, it really is dreadful.

“We love where we live – we love this street, we love the village.

“We’re settled and comfortable and we’ve been so happy here – apart from the heating system – but we’re going to have to move.”

Residents are also furious that there has been no action from the council on promised new windows and doors, which means what little heat there is soon escapes.

The campaign was started by Claire and Fiona. They took their case to the chief executive of Scottish Power; met with Falkirk Council’s chief executive; and had the issue raised in Westminster by MP Martyn Day.

Last June, they were told that Falkirk Council had set aside £5 million to install mains gas.

However, a year later, the council announced the quote for the work was higher than expected and needed more investigation.

It also announced that the environmental impact of gas on ‘net zero’ targets now have to be considered.

Claire said: “We worked together on an action plan and from the very outset they dismissed gas because of the ban on gas boilers in 2025, so they looked at five other electric systems.

“The problem was that other electric heating systems were also expensive – and in June last year, the villagers were told that having looked at all the options the council had decided to go ahead and install gas.

“That news was life-changing – it was amazing.”

One year on, the council is still looking at how much the project will cost.

“They’ve strung us along for a year – we now believe they were never going to give us gas,” said Claire.

A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “We received a quote from SGN in June which was substantially greater than previous estimates and the approved budget for replacement heating.

“We now have additional information from SGN to help us review the quote and have a team working on this as a priority and an updated options appraisal should be available soon.”

Local Labour councillor, John McLuckie – who has argued for 14 years that the Braes should be connected to the gas network – said he is worried that the council is “only now talking about carbon neutral policies”.

He said: “Falkirk Council was aware of all that before expectations were raised. and £5 million was passed in the budgets for connection costs.”

But SNP Councillor Gordon Hughes insists that the administration “is working in the best interests of the communities affected by this difficult situation”.

He said: “Officers are seeking more information in relation to the significantly higher than anticipated quote from Scottish Gas Networks – residents would quite rightly be indignant if the Council failed in its duty of care by not assessing the implications and consequences of the proposed quote.”

A report will go to the Council’s Executive in October.

The campaigners are urging supporters to attend a protest at Falkirk Council’s Municipal Buildings on Monday, August 30 at 11.30 am.

Scottish Power has been approached for comment.

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