Belfast Telegraph

Price-hike inquiry to be published

By Symon Ross

The Utility Regulator (NIAUR) has confirmed it will publish the findings of its inquiry into business electricity tariffs on March 18.

The watchdog launched the inquiry after industry representatives expressed outrage when bills for large users went up by as much as 40% last October. The price rises were driven by the end of a rebate on Public Service Obligation (PSO) charges.

Lobby group Northern Ireland Manufacturing was highly critical of the timing and magnitude of the rise in electricity prices, saying the regulator had not taken into account the economic conditions.

The regulator however, said electricity suppliers and customers should have been aware price increases were coming, as the PSO rebate introduced in January 2009 would only last for nine months and couldn’t be extended.

The inquiry aimed to look into whether suppliers communicated that the rebate on PSO charges was temporary. Bryan Gray from NIM said with the terms of reference focused on the communication of the hikes, the report was unlikely to answer questions about electricity costs. “The inquiry doesn’t address the cost of electricity, it is concerned with the communication. So it is only going to scratch the surface of the problem,” he said.

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) and NIAUR received 15 written complaints on the price increases.

The regulator had brought average power bills for large users down by 15%-20% in December 2008, but said it was not able to extend its rebate because it had finite resources to cover its cost.

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