Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gas - why we should all try to use less of it.

It's that time of year when the evenings draw in; there's a chill in the air, and before long there will be frost (szron) on the lawns. The 'heating season', or sezon grzewczy, is almost upon us. Our house is heated by gas, supplied by PGNiG (lit. 'Polish Petroleum and Gas Mining'); the amount of gas we use depends to a great extent on the temperature outside. In a summer month, we may burn as little as 60 cubic metres of the stuff (cooking); in a harsh winter, it can be up to ten time that amount.

State-controlled PGNiG is changing the way it bills its customers for gas. Rather than charging per cubic metre as it has done from the outset, it will now charge per kilowatt hour, to make it comparable to electricity prices. So the 76 cubic metres we used in August becomes 840 kilowatt hours, at a conversion rate of 1 cubic metre = 11.18 kilowatt hours. Confused? Reading a gas bill is not simple (fixed and variable charges, meter readings, ever-changing billing periods), but you need to understand what they are charging you for. Since 2006, I've been noting these in a spreadsheet, to keep an eye on the billing. "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Thatcherite convictions must be cast aside in the case of the Polish energy sector. It is better that PGNiG is controlled by the Polish state than by some other state; it might not be the best managed company in the world, but at least it's in the right hands.

There's clearly a need to keep an eye on gas consumption from an economic and environmental point of view. Our house is clad in six inches of expanded polystyrene stuck onto the outside of wide Porotherm air-bricks; and we have triple glazing. Despite that, we get winter gas bills of over 1,000 złotys (£180) a month. Remember, if you are reading this in England, winter temperatures in Warsaw can fall to -30C.

Now, in a normal world, one would bite the bullet on this one and get on with life. But PGNiG gets most of its gas from Gazprom, the commercial arm of Putin's foreign policy. Each rouble of profit that Gazprom makes can be converted into bombs, mortar shells, rockets and bullets that the Russian army uses in Ukraine. Putin's wealth does not come from clever software, reliable cars, tasty food or must-have consumer electronics - it comes solely from natural resources. Apart from killing Ukrainians, the money is spent on propaganda, lying to his own people and to the world. And of course enriching himself and his cronies.

When it comes to ethical consumption, buying gas from Putin is on a par with buying trainers made by enslaved children from the Far East or T-shirts sewn in death-trap sweatshops in Bangladesh.

Yet in the case of the latter, we have a choice. With gas, the Polish consumer has none.

So the logical answer is to save gas. Use less of the stuff this winter, and the next, and the one after that. Do yourself a favour - save money, reduce CO2 emissions - and put less money into Mr Putin's war chest.

As I write, the temperature is falling fast from a daytime high of 18C, and by daybreak it will be around 7C. Time to switch on the boiler? No. It's time to put on a warm sweatshirt. Shutters down, curtains closed. Extra insulation; time to close off the loft again with a couple of 3-inch polystyrene panels and an old mattress laid down on top of them.

If you use gas to heat your house or flat, to warm your water, to cook on - remember where it comes from and what political price there is to pay for its use.

This time last year:
Polish supermarket chain advertises on London buses

This time five years ago:
My home-made fixie bike

This time six years ago:
Well-shot pheasants

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