PRESS RELEASE - Wasting money on energy? Plymouth's doing it differently

Research this week revealed 85% of people in the UK buy energy from one of the big six providers and 70% are on the more expensive standard tariff. So with £4 billion wasted each year by failing to shop around, why is switching supplier still a turn off?

‘It’s all about confidence’ says Clare Mains of Plymouth Energy Community (PEC), a pioneering Community Benefit Society working to redress the balance of power in the energy market and stem fuel poverty in the city. ‘For years energy suppliers have used complex terminology, opaque practices and aggressive recovery processes that frighten people into not rocking the boat. Reluctance to switch is part of a deeper problem. Barking ‘switch supplier’ at people, just won’t work for those who need the savings most.’

PEC takes a broader approach, focusing efforts at raising vulnerable households’ understanding of energy and how to take control of it. And it works. NESTA’s recent social return on investment study demonstrated for every £1 that PEC spends on its fuel poverty programmes £8 of social benefit can be expected.

Mr Martin* has benefitted from the model. Following cancer treatment and ill health, the army veteran contacted PEC to see if he could get a government grant called the Warm Home Discount – a payment of £140 towards electricity bills for those classed as vulnerable by bigger energy companies. ‘I didn’t qualify with my own supplier but I didn’t know they all had different ways of deciding.’ PEC looked at his circumstances and offered more than switching advice. It identified other causes of hardship and worked with him on those too.

‘When you are trying to stay afloat, it is hard to find the confidence to make changes. I’ve tried to get support before but kept receiving letters saying there was nothing for me. PEC were the light at the end of a very long tunnel; helping me switch and get the Warm Home Discount started all sorts of positive changes in my life. My home now has adaptations from a disabled facilities grant so I can get about better. I get Attendance Allowance and have more money to help with my disabilities. I even have a blue disabled badge and parking bay. I’m more independent and our life is unrecognisable, now I can concentrate on what’s really important – my health.’

But austerity means finding funds for these kinds of proactive support programmes is very challenging. PEC is a community enterprise seeking to crack this problem and its members are putting money where their mouth is – already raising over £1.45 million in community shares that have funded 32 solar roofs. These projects pay investors a fair return, save host buildings on their energy bills and provide a long-term income to fund grass-roots services addressing energy tariff and fuel poverty issues. Their most recent renewables project, a solar array in Ernesettle, Plymouth, has been built on derelict land and is generating enough clean energy to meet the annual needs of 1000 homes. Built using short-term finance to beat cuts to subsidies, PEC now aim to maximise community benefit and keep ownership local, by financing the project through a longer-term loan from Plymouth City Council and £1,230,000 in community shares.

Of PEC’s latest solar project, Councillor Tudor Evans said ‘We are hugely impressed by the enterprise shown to build this array against the odds and have been happy to continue our support for PEC. It turns former derelict land into a long-term community-owned asset, generates clean energy and funds projects benefiting the most vulnerable in society.’

With £50 or more, anyone over 16 years can buy community shares to support PEC’s latest solar array and receive a target return of 6%. To download the Share Offer Document and find out more, visit

Contact Jemma Knowles, 01752 304528

Notes to editors

Taking piece in response to:

*Name is a pseudonym

About Plymouth Energy Community and PEC Renewables

Plymouth Energy Community shows the true power of a community coming together to make change happen. Winner of the Observer’s 2015 Ethical Award, the Community Benefit Society is one of Plymouth’s success stories. Formed by local residents in 2013 with support from Plymouth City Council, the organisation aims to change how Plymouth residents buy, use and generate energy. Now 1200 members strong, they worked quickly to establish partnerships providing a fuel debt advice service, switching service, home insulation schemes, healthy homes programme and an ‘Energy Team’ of trained volunteers providing home visits to those who need it most.

PEC have already helped over 11,200 households, saving over £341,000 from fuel bills and clearing £155,000 of energy debt for residents really struggling.

Establishing PEC Renewables in 2014, they have raised £1.45 million in community shares; providing free solar PV panels to 32 schools and community buildings. Surplus income from this locally-owned renewable energy generation provides funding for projects addressing fuel poverty and carbon emissions.

About Four Greens Community Trust (FGCT)

FGCT is a Community Interest Company, established in 2014. It has a local membership and an elected Board of local stakeholders. They aim to provide jobs, learning and training opportunities, and improve community services and facilities in the Plymouth neighbourhoods of Ernesettle, Whitleigh, Honicknowle and Manadon. Land and property have been set aside by Plymouth City Council for the Trust, to give local people more control and generate an income stream for FGCT.

Commenting is closed for this article.