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Electric bills could rise in Belfast after Brexit, council told

No prediction: Grainia Long
No prediction: Grainia Long

By Michael Kenwood

People in Belfast could face higher electricity prices as a result of Brexit, a report commissioned by the city council has heard.

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The council's Brexit committee heard that the combination of Northern Ireland's reliance on the all-Ireland Single Electricity Market (SEM) and Belfast's unusually high dependence on imported energy meant Brexit could hit the city harder than others.

The report noted an SEM representative had previously told the House of Lords EU Committee: "If the SEM cannot operate as a functional market post-Brexit then this could have a range of repercussive social and economic aspects - including security of supply concerns and the potential for higher prices, with consequential impacts on fuel poverty and manufacturing costs in NI."

The report also noted that the UK Government had committed to protecting Northern Ireland's place in the Single Electricity Market, and in the case of a no-deal Brexit would legislate to enable the modification of electricity industry licences and codes, to maintain the all-island utility.

It concluded: "Prices are impacted beyond the operation of the SEM. Access to the EU's internal energy market (IEM) is also a determinant of price, it gives efficient access to market, and as a net importer of energy, this is of critical importance to the city's economy and to households. Leaving the EU will mean either leaving this market, or agreeing new terms of trade within the EU market.

"For Northern Ireland, the terms of the relationship with the IEM is critical for the operation of the Single Energy Market. As pointed out above, decisions impacting on the SEM's operation could lead to higher prices."

Grainia Long, commissioner for resilience at the council, said it was "impossible" to accurately predict how electricity prices would be affected.

But she added: "Put simply, when energy trading becomes less efficient, prices tend to go up. The cost of electricity will therefore be determined by the manner of the UK's exit, whether new trading arrangements with the EU internal market can be agreed, and how these terms of trade will specifically impact Northern Ireland and the SEM."

Ms Long told the Brexit committee in Belfast there was no evidence the 60% of houses in Belfast dependant on oil heating would face a hike in oil bills after Brexit. Similarly, leaving the EU did not present an obvious rise in gas prices, she said. The committee also heard blackouts and short-term supply issues in electricity were not expected.

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