Already, almost 44% of households in Northern Ireland live in fuel poverty and recent price increases will see a further 50,000 homes joining them. Since May, the price of gas has risen by an alarming 40% and Power NI will have upped its prices by 20% by October this year (on top of another predicted increase of 12.5% from the beginning of next year). In addition to this, the Coal Advisory Service has stated that the price of coal could be raised by 10%. The cost of fuel will have effectively doubled since 2005.
The various energy companies have claimed that these increased tariffs are necessary due to soaring wholesale energy prices. However, last year, Peter Dixon (Chief Executive of Phoenix Gas) was paid a whopping salary of £700,000, placing him as one of the richest individuals in Northern Ireland. In order to conserve its profits, NIE Energy has passed the burden of increased wholesale fuel prices to the consumer. Also, NIE has made a controversial proposal to use customers to pay for its £40 million pension deficit.
The slight restraints on price increases put in place by the Utilities Regulator (NIAUR) are not enough. Ordinary people are still receiving huge energy bills they cannot pay. It is clear that the energy companies need to be put back into public ownership and run democratically for the benefit of working people instead of existing as nothing more than profit driven, private enterprises. As winter approaches we need to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable in society not the safety of profits for energy company executives.