Electricity bills for big firms in Northern Ireland among highest in Europe
The business community in Northern Ireland pays some of the highest electricity prices in the EU, according to researchers.
Smaller companies and domestic users fare better in a continental comparison, with charges around the European Union (EU) average, data produced by the region's Utility Regulator found.
The analysis by the regulator has been heralded as the first comprehensive comparative study of electric prices in Northern Ireland and the rest of Europe.
It found that for very small industrial and commercial consumers - representing around 70% of non domestic customers - bills were close to the EU average.
But for the remaining 30% of businesses, prices were "among the highest in Europe".
Business body CBI Northern Ireland said larger electricity users were not getting a good deal.
CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth said: "The publication of this report confirms that large electricity users are getting a bad deal compared with other consumer groups in Northern Ireland.
"Many of these large electricity users are competing globally and we need to ensure they have access to competitively-priced electricity.
"These companies are critical for the future growth of the economy yet they are paying disproportionately more for their electricity, and future investment is at risk.
"We welcome the regulator's commitment to investigate the reasons for the price differentials - CBI will be contributing to these discussions over the coming weeks.
"Large electricity users are major employers across Northern Ireland and support many smaller local companies within their supply chains - we need to ensure they are not disadvantaged and are provided with an environment which will encourage further investment."
Utility Regulator chief executive Shane Lynch said: "Energy prices are the subject of much debate in Northern Ireland, and indeed throughout Europe.
"This is understandable, as these prices impact on important social and economic issues within every jurisdiction, for example on fuel poverty and industrial competitiveness.
"Several stakeholders have asked us about comparisons between electricity prices in Northern Ireland and other parts of Europe.
"It is important that there is transparency on energy pricing and we therefore made a commitment to collate and publish such data.
"The data will also be a useful basis for framing discussion around factors affecting energy prices going forward.
"Clearly, aspects of the data require some discussion, not least of which is the finding which shows that larger electricity users are paying nearly the highest prices in Europe."
Mr Lynch said market size/economy of scale issues, fuel mix at the wholesale level and energy policy and regulation within EU states may be drivers of regional price variances.
He said further analysis of the issue would be undertaken and urged stakeholders to respond to the findings.
"We also recognise that regulators, policymakers, consumer representatives and the electricity industry especially all have some responsibility in helping to explain the pricing picture," he added.
"For that reason we would like to facilitate a debate among interested stakeholders on this very important aspect of our energy policy and regulation."