What to do when the energy bill is getting too high?

Anne’s energy bill is so high she can’t make ends meet. The third-year student cuts back on everything she can. And she still can’t manage.

‘I only shower at the gym and after swimming. At home, I only wash myself over the sink.’ Anne Ridder’s (28) heating costs are so high that she has to take drastic measures to avoid getting into trouble. ‘So I go to the gym at least five times a week, which is more often than ever’, the third-year Social Legal Services student chuckles. ‘So, after all the energy crisis brought me some good.’

Anne, who grew up in the village of Noordhorn (1400 inhabitants), has been living in the city of Groningen for nine years. The last five years in Selwerd, a neighbourhood built in the 1960s. She shares a student flat with three hundred other students.

Housing corporations haven’t done anything to insulate the houses and apartments they rent out

A short while ago, Anne received a letter saying that she could pick up free energy-saving items at the neighbour­hood renewal project Sunny Selwerd. ‘Of course I was very happy with that. A very good initiative by Sustainable Groningen (a municipal project to make Groningen more sustainable, ed.). But the meeting itself looked more like a marketing stunt of the housing corporations. They tried very hard to make a good impression, but meanwhile they haven’t done anything at all to insulate the houses and apartments they rent out. And I don’t think they intend to do that either.’

Anne is a veteran at dealing with landlords, but during the current energy crisis, she gets nothing done. ‘The fact that students don’t get a compensation for increased energy prices is just discrimination in my opinion.’

Anne does everything she can think of to save money

That’s why Anne participates in the joint student lawsuit of Landelijke Studentvakbond (one of the two main students unions in the Netherlands, ed). ‘My application for compensation was rejected, just like those of all Groningen students. After the rejection, I received a letter stating that I had wrongly received an energy allowance. I was pretty pissed about that, because I hadn’t received any allowance at all.’

Anne will install the insulation material she received from Sustainable Groningen as soon as possible. ‘I have no idea how to do that. Fortunately, a friend is coming to help me with the foil that keeps the heat in.’
Meanwhile, she is doing everything she can think of to save money. ‘Since the heating expenses went up, I don’t know how to make ends meet. I don’t have a side-job, my studies are too demanding for that. I got by just fine on study finance throughout all my student days. Up until now. I do want to avoid a sky-high loan, of course.’

A night on the town is out of the question, I don’t do that anymore

Being frugal and saving energy, in this dire situation there is nothing else Anne can do. She has even considered applying to the food bank. ‘It’s simply not possible anymore. A nice day trip is out of the question. A night on the town? I don’t do that anymore. That way I save a lot of money, of course. But I still can’t make a livelihood.’
What else she could save on, Anne doesn’t know. ‘You also want to have a bit of a life left’, she sighs. If things get really into a crisis, she could turn to her parents, but she prefers not to. ‘And you might say I am fortunate. Many other people don’t even have the opportunity to fall back on others.’

Anne has joined a Facebook group where people can go when they have no money left for a decent meal. ‘I find it distressing that so many people have to use this in a country like the Netherlands. The social system really needs to change.’

We already are under huge pressure to study fast to avoid sky-high student debt

And then these boomers who tell her that her generation shouldn’t whine. Anne is pretty much done with that. ‘People act as if today’s students get everything on a silver platter, but that’s not the case. Much more is expected of us than of previous generations. We already are under huge pressure to study fast to avoid sky-high student debt. And now we have to get through the energy crisis without any compensation whatsoever.’

Fortunately, she has an eye for the positive aspects of the miserable situation. ‘Living frugally is gratifying. Well, I am also a bit of a miser, so maybe it is a bit easier for me. But still, when I had just moved out of my parents’ and lived in a student house, I didn’t even think about energy consumption, I had the heating on 22 degrees and walked around in shirtsleeves. Now I really don’t do that anymore.’

But it’s still annoying. ‘Lately, I’ve been trying really hard to use as little energy as possible and I still can’t make ends meet. It shouldn’t be like that.’

Photo: Harjan Offereins