Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

McIldoon should relish energy price review role

Few people can be better qualified than Douglas McIldoon to pick over the entrails of the recent NIE Energy price review.

The 62-year-old former energy regulator, who is being called out of retirement, is an ideal choice for the task.

During his stint at Ofreg, which began in 1995, the tenacious regulator proved to be a consumer champion.

He fearlessly took on governments, power stations, NIE and Phoenix in his quest to ensure that the hard-pressed customer got the best deal.

Those who thought his somewhat dishevelled appearance and mild-mannered demeanour meant that he would be a pushover were in for a surprise.

A tenacious negotiator, McIldoon stirred up the energy sector and managed to secure significant price reductions for electricity customers.

But it did not come easily. One dispute over NIE’s proposed price control went right the way to the House of Lords.

Later, he battled unsuccessfully to secure better terms for the customer in the controversial 2004 takeover of East Surrey Holdings, the parent company of Phoenix Natural Gas.

But it was possibly AES, the American owners of Kilroot power station, with whom McIldoon had his greatest tussles.

The issue at stake was whether NIE customers should be obliged to pay for the cost of fitting a flue gas desulphurisation kit at Kilroot.

Ultimately, AES won the day, but they were certainly given a run for their money.

A one-time secretary of the erstwhile Northern Ireland Labour Party, McIldoon is a graduate of Oxford and Queen’s University.

After spending 15 years in the Department of the Environment, he was seconded in 1990 for a three-year stint at the European Commission.

But now, as he prepares to go through the latest price review with a fine toothcomb, he will no doubt be looking forward to the task.

And his report, when it comes in mid-November, can be expected to be well researched and clear.

McIldoon has never been one to pull his punches and is not likely to change at this stage.

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