Northern Ireland news

Russian invasion blamed for latest Firmus gas price hike

Gas bills for domestic and small business customers will rise by 16.31 per cent from May 3

RUSSIA’S invasion of Ukraine has been blamed for a fourth price hike since October for Firmus gas customers on the Ten Towns network.

Gas bills for domestic and small business customers will rise by 16.31 per cent from May 3, leaving the average household paying £1,504 per year, three times the tariff they faced before October.

The gas network, which stretches from Derry city to Newry, has around 59,000 customers.

Firmus Energy, which is the sole supplier on the network, increased its tariff for Ten Towns customers by 33.57 per cent on February. That followed a 38 per cent hike on December 1 and a 35 per cent rise on October 1.

The supplier, which also competes with SSE Airtricity on the Greater Belfast gas network, said it will announce increases for that network in the coming days.

The price of wholesale natural gas surged in the latter half of 2021 as global supplies struggled to meet the demand from economies recovering from Covid-19.

The Consumer Council yesterday warned consumers to brace themselves for high gas bills for at least the next year.

The Utility Regulator chief executive, John French said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had contributed to what he called “one of the most challenging markets we have seen in our history”.

He added: “Although we are not directly reliant on Russian gas, it sets the price we pay.”

The regulation of domestic gas tariffs in the north means suppliers must enter a consolation process with the regulator, the Department for the Economy and the Consumer Council before increasing prices.

Mr French said Firmus submitted its bid to increase its prices in early March, just days after the Russian invasion.

“We have concluded that a 16.31 per cent increase is now needed to reflect the harsh underlying market conditions,” he said.

“I completely recognise that this energy crisis is putting the most vulnerable in our society under considerable strain.

“We will continue to work with government, industry and support agencies to do whatever we can to support consumers through this crisis.”

Niall Martindale was named Firmus Energy’s interim managing director in January following the resignation of long-serving boss Michael Scott.

He said: “Energy markets remain at very high levels having been adversely affected by the war in Ukraine.

“Regrettably the sheer scale of the increased costs involved give us no alternative but to pass on to our customers the higher costs we are having to pay for the gas we supply.”

The hike came just 24 hours after Electric Ireland announced that its 103,000 Northern Ireland customers will see their bills rise by 30 per cent from May 1. It’s likely to leave the average household paying around £940 per year.

Raymond Gormley from the Consumer Council said the high energy prices, including home heating oil, will push more households into fuel poverty.

With the winter fuel payment scheme ending on March 31, he said: “We implore firmus energy, and the wider energy industry, to commit to financially supporting the continuation of a fuel hardship scheme in the coming financial year.

“For the longer term, it is clear that energy companies, policy makers, the Utility Regulator, charities and the Consumer Council must continue to work together to develop sustainable solutions to help support those in need as the problem of high energy prices will likely be with us for the foreseeable future.”

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