Gas and electricity profits should be paid backRecent price hikes 'unfair' say politicians

30 September 2008

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Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have called for gas and electricity companies to return a share of their profits to hard-pressed customers.

Earlier this month Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) and Phoenix Gas – the region’s only suppliers – hiked prices by 33% and 19% respectively. Both companies blamed soaring fuel wholesale costs. The increases were agreed in conjunction with the Utility Regulator.

Unfair

Ulster Unionist MLA, David McNarry said it was clear that the Northern Ireland energy market wasn’t functioning properly: ‘To consumers it appears unfair because apparently you can do as much as you like here when you are a monopoly.

‘The regulator cannot force NIE or Phoenix Gas to be competitive with a phantom supplier or a gas or electric supplier across the water, so surely the case has to be made for these monopoly operators to pay back some of the profits they enjoy from being in an exclusive monopoly position when it is clear they cannot lose and, even more, will not suffer when they can inflict increases at will on their customers.’

Review

An independent review has already been set up to examine the electricity charge increase. However, Mr McNarry called for the Stormont Executive to set up its own inquiry to probe the energy price issue.

Mr McNarry said MLAs had to play more of role when it came to setting costs and said it was not acceptable that the Executive was still failing to meet when vulnerable people were facing potentially crippling price rises.

Economy minister Arlene Foster (DUP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone) said the independent review by former regulator Douglas McIldoon would be robust and independent enough to address the concerns of both MLAs and the Northern Ireland Consumer Council.

‘Northern Ireland has little scope to be sheltered from the very significant global rise in energy costs. Rising energy costs are a concern not just here, but in the wider UK, the Republic of Ireland and further afield, with impacts on both domestic and business consumers,’ she added.

Amendment

The Ulster Unionist call for an inquiry fell and was replaced by an Alliance amendment urging the Executive to instead bring forward an action plan to counter the effects of rising electricity and gas prices.

An SDLP amendment calling for a clearly defined role for the Northern Ireland Consumer Council in the regulatory process was also adopted.

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