Gas prices soar: Derry Councillor’s Review of Regulator motion stalled for now

An attempt by Derry Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle to bring forward a motion calling for council to initiate Judicial Review proceedings against the Northern Ireland Energy Regulator was not allowed to proceed.

The Ballyarnett councillor spoke about the need for council ‘to think outside the box’ following the announcement of a 16.31% price hike in prices by Firmus Energy.

The hike will come into force three months after the firm raised gas prices by 33.57% across the Ten Towns network last month.

Addressing the virtual chamber at a recent Council meeting, Colr. Doyle said: “I do think at this point people have long past the level where they can cope with these price rises and I think it is now getting to the point when we need to take drastic action as a council to protect people. Whilst the weather is getting milder and we are coming into spring it is still cold at night, there are people who have medical problems who require warmth throughout the day and night and particularly older people throughout the district who are now reverting back to buying coal and I don’t blame them.

Colr. Doyle and other people hold posters at the Derry Fuel Poverty Rally in Waterloo Place on Sunday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2213GS – 067

“I had a cursory look at some of the wholesale gas prices today and they seem to be lower than what they were at the peak of this about five weeks ago and yet we are still dealing with price rises. I think that’s a failure of the energy regulator and frankly the only option we have left in terms of trying to protect people is to do so through the legal process.”

He then proposed a motion that council take a Judicial review claiming the regulator had ‘failed in its statutory responsibility to protect customers with regards to price and quality of service’. 

Asking the substantive motion be brought before the next full council meeting on April 28, the Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke informed members that Firmus Energy will be coming into committee in a number of weeks. 

Asking the Mayor to reconsider his decision, Councillor Doyle said: “I genuinely think in a month’s time people will have had three or four weeks of heightened prices. They are looking to us to do something and we have this opportunity which is within our right. There is nothing stopping us.”

Gas prices are set to rise again next month.

Commenting on the recent announcement by Firmus, John French, Utility Regulator Chief Executive said: “Wholesale energy prices rose rapidly in the second half of 2021, as global supplies did not keep pace with demand and as economies began to recover from Covid-19. Unfortunately, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made this picture even starker. Although we are not directly reliant on Russian gas, it sets the price we pay.

“Following the Russian invasion on 24 February, Firmus Energy, in early March, provided the Utility Regulator with a submission to increase their regulated tariff. We have now finalised our analysis of this submission, following consultation with both the Department for the Economy and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. We have concluded that a 16.31% increase is now needed to reflect the harsh underlying market conditions.

“I completely recognise that this energy crisis is putting the most vulnerable in our society under considerable strain. I would therefore encourage anyone who is struggling with their bills to get in touch with their energy company as soon as they can. The regulatory process ensures that energy companies have clear obligations on how they act and how they provide support to consumers.

“We will continue to work with Government, industry and support agencies to do whatever we can to support consumers through this crisis, in one of the most challenging markets we have seen in our history.”

Further information on the support available to energy customers is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/covid-19-energy-debt-advice. Advice on saving energy in the home and information on energy efficiency grants is available from www.nihe.gov.uk/Community/NI-Energy-Advice