Consumers in Wales have reduced their electricity and gas usage more than any other region of the UK over the last 12 months, in a bid to lower their energy bills, new figures suggest.
Government data published by WalesOnline shows that escalating utility bills are forcing many people to significantly cut back on the amount of energy they use to power and heat their home, even if it is causing discomfort.
According to the statistics, three of the top five UK local authorities that recorded the biggest overall drops in electricity usage between 2010 and 2011 were based in Wales.
Turning out the lights
The report was compiled from meter readings that tracked energy consumption across 12-month periods and found that consumers in Powys saw the biggest reduction in their electricity usage in 2011, falling by 6.3%.
Ceredigion (5.4%) and Pembrokeshire (5.2%) were the other two areas of Wales that saw major reductions in electricity usage, while the savings have also been made on gas usage, which fell by 9.2%.
Lindsey Kearton, policy manager at Consumer Futures in Wales, told WalesOnline that it was not surprising to see thousands of people across the nation cutting back on their gas and electricity use to help reduce their energy bills.
“People are struggling to pay their bills against a backdrop of salary freezes, concerns about job security and rising food bills. Fuel poverty affects around a third of households in Wales,” she explained.
“Those who are fuel poor are more likely to turn their heating down below the level adequate for their wellbeing, and more likely to live in energy inefficient homes which are poorly insulated and prone to dampness.”
A big problem
A spokeswoman for the Welsh Government said that fuel poverty is a “big problem” for many households in Wales, but claimed the issue is one that authorities are attempting to resolve, and levelled a portion of the blame on energy suppliers.
“The Welsh Government is taking action to address the problem but regular energy price increases and squeezed disposable incomes mask the hard work we are doing and the progress we are making,” she said.
“The Welsh Government is committed to improving the energy efficiency of the homes of people who are on the lowest incomes and living in the hardest to heat homes. Since 2001 we have invested more than £150 million to help make more than 127,000 Welsh homes more energy efficient.”
Responsibility to help consumers
According to the Tory shadow communities minister Mark Isherwood, suppliers have a “responsibility” to manage tariffs so that consumers are benefiting from the lowest one possible.
He said that energy prices have a “huge impact” on households and claimed that recent hikes were “another blow” to families who are already tightening their belts.
“While the UK government – through the Energy Bill – does all it can to support communities here, there is far more that Welsh Labour ministers can – and should – be doing,” Mr Isherwood said.
“Wales remains the only part of the UK without a fuel policy advisory forum and its reinstatement has been recommended by the UK Fuel Poverty Monitor.”
Meanwhile, Llyr Gruffydd, energy spokesman for Plaid Cymru, suggested that the only way to solve the problem would be a devolution of powers over energy, so that Wales can have greater responsibility over the way it manages its energy production and consumption.
“Wales is an energy-rich nation and so it seems particularly unjust that Welsh families are finding themselves struggling to pay energy bills,” he concluded.