Over £4m will be spent on replacing outdated energy meters and an ageing billing system on Nottingham City Council’s district heating network.
The network of pipes, and its associated systems, needs £17.5m of investment overall to continue serving around 5,000 homes in St Ann’s.
The system was previously run externally by the council as Enviroenergy, but the Labour-run authority brought the firm in-house at the end of last year.
Nottingham’s district heating system is the largest in the UK, with waste burned at the Eastcroft Incinerator being converted into heat and hot water.
As well as thousands of homes in St Ann’s, the network provides heat and hot water to 120 commercial businesses including the council-owned Motorpoint Arena and Royal Centre.
As part of the required £17.5m investment, the 18 year old prepayment meters and the customer billing system, which is 15 years old, require an upgrade.
New meters, called EE Monitors, will be installed in all remaining properties on the district heating network.
The city council had been working with a supplier on the EE Monitors since 2015, and after a successful prototype the authority is looking to enter a 10-year contract to roll them out further.
Updating the energy meters in the city will cost £1.125m, while the billing system will cost £3.2m, bringing the total to over £4.3m across a ten-year period.
Should the meters not be replaced, the council says “residents will face a complete failure of the prepayment metering infrastructure, meaning they may see a loss of the heat and hot water supply”.
The new EE Monitors, which have already been installed at the Bentinck Court Manvers Court and Kingston Court tower blocks, allow customers to top-up their accounts online or over the phone, as well as better manage their usage, rather than visiting one of a limited number of shops which provide top-ups.
Barry Taylor, 88, and his wife, Barbara, 90, have been living in the Kingston Court block in Sneinton for 54 years. The block itself was built 58 years ago in 1964.
They welcomed the investment, having already benefited from the new meters themselves. They said: “We used to have under-floor heating and it used to come out of your rent. Half the time you would not use what you were paying for.
“But now you only use what you pay for. We had those storage heaters. We were on Economy 7 and at night the heaters would charge up, but by the evening there was nothing left.”
Similarly Kate Sutherland, who has lived in the same block since 2011, added: “I go to the Co-op and you have a card to top up.
“At one time you could top up without going out but my monitor is broken. They are good but only as long as they don’t break.
“It is a lot easier especially if you are getting older. I think it is a worthwhile investment.”
Nottingham City Council says it has successfully helped other local authorities and housing associations across the UK purchase and install the EE Monitor into properties on a similar heat network.
It says the EE Monitor has become “a commercial success since its inception”, having been fitted in 3,000 homes across the UK so far.
As such a further £2,454,000 has also been approved for the replacement of energy meters in homes on other district heating networks across the country, with other local authorities also needing a new monitor on their own networks.
No capital is required to fund external EE Monitor sales as this is paid for at the point of a sale to a client, the council added.
The investment is needed because 95 per cent of the domestic properties on the Nottingham heat network currently have an outdated prepayment meter installed, with parts to repair the systems now obsolete.
“The customers only have a small number of shops in the area in which they can top up, this is leading to customers having to travel some distance just
to top up their prepayment device,” the council says in a report on the plans.
Some tenants also require an engineer to manually top their meter up by £250 to prevent them getting into debt, and the council says tenants shouldn’t require a visit from an engineer every few months.
The Nottingham One and Victoria Centre blocks also have dedicated top-up machines which are currently out of use and cannot be fixed because the parts to do so are unavailable.
The billing system, the council says, has too been “constantly failing and unable to produce bills.”
Some customers have in some instances not received automated bills since 2014 due to system failures and attempts to fix this have failed.
If the council was to not upgrade the billing system, it says it is “at risk of fines due to regulatory failures for not issuing a minimum of one annual statement per year to customers on the district heating network as per the Heat Network, Metering & Billing Regulations 2014 (Updated 2020).”
The 10-year contract for the new billing system, up to the value of £3,200,000, will equate to roughly £320,000 per year.
The council said: “This is a low price in comparison to industry median costs and again is part of routine upgrades to the software systems that support customer experience. The maximum value ensures that if there is need for provision to clients it can be done.”
The spend was approved during a meeting at Loxley House on Tuesday, October 11.