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Anger at electricity giant's threat to switch off town's Christmas lights
AN energy company threatened to switch off a market town's Christmas lights display after volunteers refused to pay an electricity bill which was 1,240 per cent higher than the previous year.
Thirsk and District Business Association members said they had been "gobsmacked" to receive demands from npower for £10,208.33 for powering the display in 2012, after being charged £760 by the firm the year before.
Accountant Guy Baragwanath, chairman of the association, said threats from npower to disconnect the display, which was switched on in front of 1,500 residents on November 29, had sparked fears this year’s illuminations could be the town’s last.
Last night, npower told The Northern Echo it was working to resolve the situation and would not take any action until an investigation had been carried out.
But Mr Baragwanath said the firm had written to the association warning of £8,000 disconnection and reconnection charges, despite him contacting them 15 times since March to find out why the bill had rocketed.
He said: “It is just stupid. We are not talking about the Blackpool illuminations, but the 1,214 lights we do have on from 4pm to 11pm for 38 days are very popular with residents.
“We had the same number of lights last year as we had in 2011, so if this is what it is going to cost, we won’t be able to do it for another year.”
German-owned gas and electricity supplier npower has faced repeated criticism over the last two weeks, after announcing plans to cut 430 call centre jobs at its Rainton Bridge site in Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, and close branches in Thornaby, near Stockton, and Peterlee, east Durham.
Last week, the firm wrote to 3.4 million customers to apologise after what was described by regulator Ofgem as a "serious deterioration" in customer service levels and on December 1 npower's 900,000 customers in the North saw average gas prices rise by 11.1 per cent and electricity prices jump 9.3 per cent.
Members of the association said they had been appalled to repeatedly receive automatically generated responses from the firm after questioning the bill.
Mr Baragwanath said: “When I have contacted npower, they have never come back to me even when they said they would.
“There is no personal service any more. We are just a number to them.”
Association secretary, estate agent Jill Miller, said numerous fundraising events had been staged throughout the year to generate the £12,000 needed to maintain the display, which is seen as vital to attract shoppers over the crucial festive trading period.
She said it would be impossible to raise an extra £10,000 to fund powering the lights.
Mrs Miller said: “I just couldn’t believe there were so many zeros on the bill.
“It is amazing, they are a huge corporation and we are just a dot in the ocean.”
A spokeswoman for npower, which last month announced its profits had risen to £175m for the first nine months of the year, said last night (Friday, December 13) it would not take any action until an investigation into the matter had been completed.
She said it was possible the information it had received from distributor National Grid had been misread or that the association had been charged for a year rather than 38 days.
The spokeswoman added: “We don’t want to see the Christmas lights turned off in Thirsk so we are looking into this and working really hard to get this resolved.”
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