Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Resolution to NIE row a relief to householders

Margaret Canning, Belfast Telegraph business journalist
Margaret Canning, Belfast Telegraph business journalist

The two-year dispute between the Utility Regulator and Northern Ireland Electricity may have been one of the most rancorous and disruptive rows ever to affect Northern Ireland's business environment.

When in 2012 the Utility Regulator first published a determination rejecting NIE's plans to increase spending on its infrastructure, while putting up prices for customers in order to fund its increase spend, few would have thought that the debate would be continuing two years later.

NIE's staunch resistance to the Utility Regulator even saw its credit rating threatened by ratings agencies Fitch and Standard & Poors.

The whole debate was referred to the Competition Commission – which now comes under the umbrella of the Competition and Markets Authority.

But the issuing of the provision determination of the Competition Commission, which was broadly in accord with the Utility Regulator, saw further disagreement from NIE, and there was even talk of judicial review proceedings.

But there is now a sense of relief that the dispute has come to a close with yesterday's final determination from the CMA.

It its response, NIE did not refer specifically to the nuts and bolts of the determination –giving the authority's blessing to a spending programme of £1.011bn. It did instead comment that it welcomed the dawn of a new era of regulation.

A spokeswoman said: "A key aspect of the commission's determination is the closer alignment of the regulatory framework and reporting arrangements with those applied by Ofgem (the regulator in Great Britain).

"NIE fully supports this change which should facilitate future price control reviews."

One can assume there have been no bunches of flowers sent, nor declarations of love between the formidable foes of the Utility Regulator and NIE.

But in its statement, the NIE appears to fully accept the determination, which will come as a relief to householders and business owners who have been affected by the uncertainty caused by the two-year disagreement.

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