Firmus gas prices to soar by 28%
Customers face big hike as winter looms
Thousands of embattled householders have been warned to brace themselves for further gas price rises in the run-up to winter.
The bad news comes as Firmus Energy unveiled details of a new tariff which will see domestic prices increase by 28.4% from next month.
Dramatic rises in the wholesale cost of gas have once again been blamed for the latest hike, which equates to an increase of over £137 a year.
It means average household bills will go up from £430 to over £560 on an annual basis.
This applies to some 11,000 consumers in the 10 towns in which Firmus operates, including Ballymena, Banbridge, Coleraine, Craigavon, Limavady, Londonderry and Newry.
An announcement pertaining to further rises for its 9,000 greater Belfast-based customers is expected to follow in due course.
Mark Prentice, the company's managing director, said the increase in price was inevitable in the current economic climate.
"It is regrettable that we cannot continue to buy gas on the wholesale market at the same levels as last year and as a result have had to increase gas prices," he said.
Phoenix Gas, the firm's principal competitor, raised its tariff by almost 40% in May, prompting some 8,500 consumers to switch supplier.
At the time Firmus made a commitment to freeze its prices at their current level until October as a means of attracting new users.
It also vowed to keep costs below Phoenix's for at least two years after a customer changes over from its main rival.
The decision to offer this deal to householders in Northern Ireland came under fire after it emerged that those in the Republic pay significantly more.
A rival operator claimed the average household here is charged £500 a year by Bord Gais's loss-making subsidiary.
That is almost £300 less than an average householder in the Republic, where annual bills are set to rise to nearly £800.
Bord Gais spokesman Larry Donald said the firm had taken a decision last year to offer major discounts in Northern Ireland until September 2011 because it was a new entrant to the Belfast market competing against the dominant Phoenix Gas.
The Consumer Council's head of energy said the latest rise means many households here will be unable to afford to heat their homes this winter. "The Consumer Council is worried that households will face very stark decisions this winter when faced with these increases," John French said.
- Average household yearly gas bill: £430
- Firmus Energy price increase from October 1: 28.4%
- Average annual bill hike: £137
- Number of customers affected from next month: 11,000
- Total number of Firmus customers: 20,000
Gas - Firmus 28% increase. Phoenix has already announced a 39.1% hike
Electricity - Power NI (formerly NIE) announces 18.6% increase
Coal - Up 10%
Petrol - Highest in UK