Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate and Energy, Darren O’Rourke TD, has criticised the government for failing to ensure that the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) can protect workers and families from the whims of energy companies, leaving them exposed to sky-high gas and electricity bills.
Commenting on the CRU’s address to the Oireachtas Environment and Climate Action Committee today, the Meath East TD said it was clear that, without a strengthening of the CRU’s mandate, as well as an increase in staffing and resources, profit would continue to take precedence over people in the energy market.
Teachta O’Rourke said:
“The figures are stark. Ireland has some of the highest energy prices in Europe and workers and families are crippled by the strain. Nearly one in four gas customers are in arrears, with the figure standing at 160,000 – up 20,600 when compared to last year. It is really no surprise energy poverty remains high.
“We know that wholesale prices have fallen significantly, and yet energy companies have failed to pass these reductions on to the consumer. Energy companies tell us this is the result of ‘hedging’ but the reality is that there is seriously insufficient oversight and regulation of these practices.
“There is very real concern that energy companies are carrying out rampant profiteering and yet the CRU remains relatively powerless to get to grips with this situation. They say that they are ‘very concerned’ about the impact these sky-high prices are having on households and businesses, yet all they can do to get to grips with the situation is to ‘encourage’ energy companies to pass reductions on to consumers.
“Mere encouragement is not good enough. The last 18 months have put into sharp focus just how essential it is that we have a regulatory body that has the regulatory teeth to effectively monitor and supervise the energy market.
“The CRU’s shortcomings become even more obvious when we consider they do not even have the mandate to regulate standing charges, meaning that energy companies are free to use them to increase their profits. Some energy companies have increased their standing charges by €300 last year. These are massive costs before people even switch on a light.
“If all of this wasn’t bad enough, the CRU is massively under-resourced to carry out the minimal regulatory functions it is mandated to. This further exacerbates the risks posed to workers, families and businesses.
“Urgent action is clearly required to get a handle on this unsustainable situation. Sinn Féin has proposed a number of policies to increase the power and resourcing of the CRU in order to hold energy companies to account.
“Firstly, the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Standing Charges) Bill 2023 would give the CRU the power to regulate standing charges.
“Secondly, we proposed last week to increase the resourcing and mandate of the CRU in order to oversee ‘hedging’ activities and ensure wholesale price reductions are passed onto the consumer.
“It is high-time the government stopped acting as commentators, started doing their job and ensured that the CRU is mandated and equipped to effectively regulate the energy market.”