Northern Ireland news

Gas prices set to rise by 30% in coming weeks, Utility Regulator warns

Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland is set to face a further 30% rise in the price of gas, the Utility Regulator said.

It comes after a number of gas price increases this year, most recently significant hikes at the start of July.

Utility Regulator chief executive John French said wholesale gas prices have risen considerably over the last six weeks, as Russia has reduced its gas flows via the key Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Europe by 80%.

He said this has been further exacerbated by Asian and South American countries buying more liquefied natural gas (LNG), the higher-than-usual temperatures in Europe, outages in the French nuclear power station fleet, and historic price rises in the US gas market.

Mr French told the BBC he expects price increases in gas of 30% from October 1.

He announced tariff reviews are under way for two regulated gas suppliers, SSE Airtricity Gas Supply and Firmus Energy, adding the tariff increases will be announced once the reviews are complete.

“I’m very worried, you look at the prices on a daily basis and it’s upsetting seeing where the prices are going and you know then the impact that that’s going to mean on households and businesses here in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“This isn’t a nice time to be a regulator.”

Mr French took part in meetings with Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Stormont Economy Minister Gordon Lyons and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey over the last week.

But agreement was not reached on how to deliver a £400 energy bill discount in Northern Ireland.

Instead a new taskforce to find a solution was announced.

Mr French said he put forward a plan to deliver the discount which he believes is workable, adding he came away from Monday’s meeting disappointed.

He said he had expected the conversation to have been further forward on Monday.

“It’s for the Treasury and the Northern Ireland departments to work together to make sure the governance in terms of getting the money to companies is there,” he said.

“That was the pragmatic solution we provided to the Chancellor last Wednesday. It was our understanding that was the decision that was going to be taken forward, we then met the Chancellor again on Monday and there was a bit of backtracking around governance measures that needed to get the monies out.

“If we keep this simple we can get the monies out quickly … there is a simple mechanism to do that and we’re just hoping the Treasury will back that.

“All being well it could be this side of Christmas that the monies go out, and hopefully a lot sooner than that, if that simple mechanism is taken forward.”

Mr French also said he has invited government departments, energy suppliers and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland to meet to look urgently at other practical steps that can be taken to support consumers this winter.

“Furthermore, we are using everything in our regulatory toolbox to support consumers. I will continue to remind energy suppliers of the need for a sympathetic approach to customers’ ability to pay, and of their obligations to avoid customer disconnections and consider other approaches to protecting people in debt,” he said.

“Consumers who are worried about the impact of these higher prices should always contact their electricity or gas supplier in the first instance, to discuss the options available to them.

“In addition, there are also a number of agencies who can provide free and independent advice to households, including Advice NI, Christians Against Poverty, and Money and Pensions Service.”

Northern Ireland news