Firmus plans 14% gas price hike outside of greater Belfast area
Gas bills are set to increase by more than £50 annually for 20,000 customers in Northern Ireland after Firmus announced it was putting up prices.
The 14.4% hike applies to consumers outside of greater Belfast – the so-called Ten Towns – a misnomer that actually refers to 21 locations.
Tariffs for the company's 40,000 customers in greater Belfast, which went up by almost 9% in April this year, will remain unchanged.
However, it means that gas users living in, for example, Antrim, Ballymena and Bushmills, will continue to pay higher tariffs.
Firmus Energy said its different prices for gas were caused by the two separate natural gas networks in Northern Ireland – one owned and operated by Firmus; the other in greater Belfast by Phoenix Natural Gas.
"Firmus Energy supplies gas to homes and businesses in both of these networks," a spokeswoman said. "In greater Belfast, where the market is open, the dominant supplier is Airtricity and we offer a competitive price against them.
"In its own network area, Firmus Energy is currently the exclusive supplier to small business and domestic users and in accordance with its licence operates on a no profit/no loss basis with any surplus revenues going back into paying off the cost of developing the network."
Firmus has blamed the forthcoming increase in its prices on factors including the weather and unrest in the Middle East.
The supplier said the change was the equivalent to an increase of an extra £1 per week for a typical household's domestic gas bill.
Firmus's 20,000 small business and domestic customers in the Ten Towns will be affected by the hike from October 1.
The firm's general manager Michael Scott said he recognised the price increase represented a blow to consumers.
"The coldest March for over 50 years with a prolonged snowfall saw wholesale gas prices reaching almost double the normal winter price due to the high demand which depleted much of the UK's gas reserves," he explained.
"Replenishing these reserves led to high levels of demand over the usually lower-priced summer period resulting in wholesale gas prices staying higher than normal.
"Coupled with the ongoing unrest around the Middle East, surges in the price of oil and gas on the wholesale market have been so significant that we are unable to continue to absorb them."
Mr Scott said oil has been consistently more expensive than natural gas, adding: "Even with this increase, Firmus Energy natural gas prices will still be around 20% cheaper compared to the average price of home heating oil over the last 12 months."