Power to the parish: Christians in the UK are challenging the government on energy prices

A new Christian campaign could help change the face of UK energy policy.

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The following mission statement hardly shouts revolution from the rooftops: “We want to make tackling climate action as normal as the flower rota.”

But a new initiative from the Christian community – The Big Church Switch – could pose the most effective challenge yet to the government’s regressive energy agenda. 

Over the last nine months, the Conservatives have systematically savaged the UK’s raft of green legislation. Insulation schemes have been slashed, taxes on renewable energy have been hiked, and subsidies for solar ended – all in the name of reducing household energy bills.

Numerous groups have called time on this behaviour. Campaigners, private enterprises, and even the government’s own advisors, have argued that investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency will bring down bills, not raise them. But none have made the message stick.

Now the Church has stepped in with its own campaign; one which gives the lie to the notion that energy supply cannot be both clean and cheap

The charities Christian Aid, and Tearfund have used their collective bargaining power to negotiate a deal that not only supplies “100 per cent clean electricity”, but does so cheaper than the average standard-variable tariff currently on offer from the “Big Six” energy providers.

Clergy across the country will be encouraging their congregations to make the change. Though anyone can take advantage of the offer simply by signing up on the campaign website.

“We think western governments are not doing enough on climate change. They think the electorate does not yet support action that will meet the Paris promises,” Ben Niblett from Tearfund told me. “So we need to show them that, yes, people are ready to change their behaviour.”

It is still not the cheapest option available: other, non-green, deals are available for less than the Big Switches’ annual £824 (for a typical household). Some also believe that prioritising energy efficiency is a better way to lower both emissions and costs. “The cheapest energy unit is the unit you don’t use,” says the director of Ebico, a provider with a focus on reducing fuel poverty.

Yet the scheme proves that better balances can be found than those big business is currently offering – and that the government is too often leaving people with little option but to take.

Like the five stones David used to defeat Goliath, here are five ways the scheme could help change energy policy for the better:

1. No more misrepresentation: The government’s insistence on prioritising price does not tally with what the public says it wants. A recent Attitudes Tracking survey from the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed that 78 per cent of the public overwhelmingly support the use of renewable energy.

2. No more subsidy hypocrisy: In early 2015, it was reported that the UK provided 300 times more subsidy (in export credits) to fossil fuels than to renewables. Christian Aid has therefore also commissioned research that will explore the full extent of this trend.

3. No more public deception: Last year the government promised insulation for 1 million homes, while failing to mention that they've overseen an 80% slide in insulation rates.  

4. No more Crony Corporatism: The wholesale price of gas and oil is plummeting, yet the prices passed on by the large energy companies have barely moved. This scheme could make the government's tie-ups with big-energy look much less attractive.

5. No more inertia: It is hoped the campaign will help normalise green energy consumption in the same way that the Church's Fair Trade campaign did for the Fair Trade label. And some hope it will go even further: an officer from Switched On London would like to see private energy companies bypassed altogether, in favour of publically owned initiatives.

Only time will tell how far the campaign's influence will reach. But in Waterloo, London, Revd Giles Goddard believes it will make all the difference to grassroots action. “A lot of my congregation are from Uganda, where we are already seeing the devastation climate change can cause. They might not have much themselves, but they want to help", he explains. "And this scheme will help them to do that. They know that this is about justice.”

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.