Edinburgh schools gas bill soars to £2.4m

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CITY classrooms guzzled nearly half a million pounds in extra gas amid plunging temperatures over the last school year – stoking fears energy giants are profiting at the expense of teaching budgets.

The Capital’s school gas bill jumped by £475,000 to £2.4 million in 2012-13 compared with the previous 12 months, as consumption shot up by 24 per cent.

The sum – roughly equivalent to the combined annual salaries of 20 newly-qualified teachers – was forked out after schools used 97,000 megawatt-hours (MWh), up from around 78,000Mwh the previous year.

Education chiefs said the increase was due to colder weather, with the number of “degree days” – a measure of the difference between outdoor temperature and the 15.5C base value at which buildings do not need extra heat – rising by more than a quarter.

But schools were also hit by higher unit gas prices hiked up by contractor Total Energy despite being on a tariff which city bosses described as 

Parents, opposition leaders and environmental groups warned the Capital’s education budget would be “crippled” in future unless more is done to increase energy efficiency, wean campuses off fossil fuel dependency and upgrade automated gas management components after a probe found they were “obsolete” and “not functioning correctly”.

The ballooning bill also comes after energy giants British Gas and SSE sparked anger by hiking gas and electricity prices by 9.2 per cent and 8.2 per cent respectively.

Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green member for Fountainbridge and Craiglockhart, said: “After decades of neglect, Edinburgh’s schools are miles off the pace on energy efficiency.

“Nothing can be more dispiriting for parents and young people than seeing extra money going to boost the profits of the energy giants, rather than paying for new facilities or extra help in the classroom.”

Over the three years to 2012-13, city leaders calculated that gas consumption in schools rose by 11.7 per cent following a fall in demand between 2010-11 and 2011-12, with the data showing electricity and oil usage was broadly stable.

Antonis Giannopoulos, Bruntsfield Primary parent council chair, said: “Parents will be worried about where the extra money will be found for the gas and how this might impact on the budget for essential things in the school.

“I would have thought that the best way forward on this is to plan – to know what energy requirements we have, how we use energy and how it’s wasted.”

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We need to look at everything we can to both minimise gas use and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, otherwise this will be pretty crippling for the council’s budget.”

Opposition councillors said the Capital’s schools were still far from protected against sudden spikes in gas use and prices.

Cllr Corbett said: “As energy prices continue to rise, the case for real investment in insulation, modern boilers and renewable energy becomes stronger and stronger.”

Education bosses said they were aware of the need to reduce energy consumption across the schools estate, adding that a wide-ranging programme of energy management projects would be progressed. Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Clearly, ensuring our children and staff are comfortable in their school environment is a priority for us.”

Degree days summed up

DEGREE days – a measure of the difference between the baseline and the actual outdoor temperature multiplied by the number of days – is used to calculate the impact on energy consumption.

The base value is 15.5C because at this temperature most buildings do not need supplementary heating.

For example, if the air temperature is 7.5C for 48 hours the degree days total would be 16 (15.5-7.5x2).

Between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the number of degree days calculated for schools increased from 2308 to 2908.