Heat is on at Stormont

THOSE who frequent Stormont often remark on how warm the building is. As some smart ass recently quipped, the Parliament Buildings thermostat has just two settings: very hot and blast furnace. Now the cost of keeping 108 MLAs and hundreds of support staff cosy and warm all year round using a combination of gas and electricity is revealed.

Prompted by concerns that Stormont may not be setting an example when it comes to conserving energy, Green Party leader Steven Agnew asked the Assembly Commission for a breakdown of its utility costs.

While the water costs for Parliament Buildings are unavailable because they fall under the remit of the wider Stormont estate, the annual bills for electricity and gas are shocking and foul smelling, respectively.

Last year, electricity costs on the hill hit an all-time high at £273,000 -- the equivalent of more than 500 household bills. The bill for gas meanwhile in the same 12 month period was £156,000 -- enough to heat 350 homes for a year. The Assembly Commission says the majority of Parliament Buildings' radiators are fuelled by gas, though a number of rooms use much-less energy efficient electric heaters.

In all, more than £1.2 million has been spent on heat and power at Stormont during the past three years.

Mr Agnew said the Assembly's failure to embrace energy efficiency was mirrored across most government departments. Figures obtained by the North Down MLA show little if any reduction in utility bills across all 12 executive departments over the past five years.

In the meantime, however, there have been numerous energy-saving strategies and initiatives launched at Stormont -- not to mention debates about fuel poverty.

"In terms of its symbolism the assembly should be leading by example when it comes energy use," Mr Agnew said.

"They should be going down same road as business with innovative measures that cut costs and emissions but so far but there's no indication that the Assembly Commission has seriously embraced an efficiency culture."

Mr Agnew said the advantages of reviewing Stormont's energy policy would be two-fold -- "saving money and helping the environment".

"I appreciate that power and heating costs have gone up in recent years but so has knowledge and awareness of how to cut energy bills," said Mr Agnew.

"With a bit of effort we should be able to offset any recent rises with energy efficiency measures."

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan criticised the costs and called for Stormont to adopt more renewables technology.

"It is an absolute joke that in this day and age we are using gas to heat Parliament Buildings," he said.

"The executive is constantly encouraging people to embrace renewable sources of energy. If it is actually serious about this, it should lead by example and make all publicly owned buildings energy efficient and powered by renewable sources."

An Assembly spokesperson said "The Assembly Commission works closely with the Department of Finance and Personnel's energy unit to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to improve the energy performance of Parliament Buildings. Significant improvements to

date have included converting the main boiler supply to natural gas. Further improvements are planned, including those currently being progressed as part of the roof refurbishment project"

An Assembly spokesman said a range of measures had been put in place aimed at improving the building's energy performance.

"The current display energy certificate (DEC) for the building gives a D rating which is creditable for a building of this nature," he said.

The Assembly Commission also plans to install solar panels and solar thermal tubes as part of its £6m-plus refurbishment of the Parliament Buildings' roof.