Stormont developing support scheme in response to energy crisis
STORMONT could soon introduce an emergency energy payment support scheme in response to the surging costs facing consumers this winter.
It comes as 96,000 Budget Energy customers will see their electricrity tariff rise by 29 per cent tomorrow.
All executive ministers have been asked to surrender funds they are unable to spend in the current financial year to build a potential war chest.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy traditionally announces fresh in-year funding reallocations in January monitoring rounds. But it is understood that departments have been asked to hand back funds now rather than wait until the new year.
The emergency support scheme has yet to come before the executive for approval, but a Stormont committee heard yesterday that Economy Minister Gordon Lyons will return £41 million to the pot.
It is understood the energy scheme will be run by the Department for the Communities.
It follows significant hikes announced by electricity and gas suppliers in recent weeks.
Consumers were told last month that the north is in the grip of the most severe energy price shock since the early 1970s.
The cost of wholesale natural gas has jumped four-fold in the past year, with the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator warning that prices could remain high for the next three years.
Natural gas markets in Europe were on the climb again yesterday amid a colder than average start to the winter across the continent, boosting demand and hitting gas stocks.
John French said his body and the Consumer Council have been in discussions with Stormont departments in recent days about potential mitigation measures.
The costs continue to climb for consumers. Some 170,000 SSE Airtricity customers will see their electricity tariff rise nine per cent next Wednesday.
The north’s biggest electricity provider, Power NI, will increase its prices by 21.4 per cent on January 1. It has around 450,000 domestic customers.
Meanwhile, around 57,000 domestic gas customers on the Ten Towns network will see their tariff rise 38.2 per cent from December 3 following Firmus Energy’s announcement on November 11. Suppliers on the Greater Belfast network are expected to follow soon.
MLAs on Stormont’s executive office committee yesterday agreed to call on Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill to set up a cost of living taskforce.
SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin, who proposed the move, said: “We need innovative ideas and solutions to help our public navigate this difficult period."