North east battles fuel poverty

The north east of England has been named as one of only three regions to test a new scheme that will help homes in deprived areas cut their heating bills.

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks announced plans to invest £500,000 from the government’s Low Carbon Buildings Programme, to test the benefits of systems such as air-source and ground-source heat pumps in homes.

The funding, provided by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and supported by One NorthEast, has established Community Energy Solutions to help tackle fuel poverty in the region.

The project is providing solutions for communities who are not connected to mains gas and are most at risk of fuel poverty. Solutions include extending gas mains where appropriate, and using new renewable heat pump technology.

The project has reduced the cost of selected emerging low carbon technologies, making the technology more competitive and attractive to local authorities and housing providers.

Mr Wicks said: ‘Low-income households, often without access to mains gas, are those that can most benefit from microgeneration technologies, and we hope that this pilot will increase the number of installations in those properties.’

Community Energy Solutions chief executive Chris Leek added: ‘With this funding we will be focusing on bringing gas and renewable measures to even more urban and rural communities across the region to build on our current success, which includes a project in Middleton In Teesdale where more than 100 homes could be switching to a community biomass boiler system to help combat fuel poverty issues in that village.’

The scheme has so far completed 20 renewable energy projects and there is potential to move more than 6,000 homes out of fuel poverty.