Energy: are we powerless against providers?



Is all this gloom and doom about energy poverty and soaring cost of living getting you  down? It did me at first: I imagined myself watching that gizmo in the electricity meter going round and round as I tried to discover which appliance was treacherously clocking up my bill — the pump in the septic tank, the kettle or the immersion? But I don’t have to give in to a winter of discontent.

We got very used to doing what we were told by the Nanny State during the pandemic. From cutting off social contact to wearing masks we were – well most of us were – compliant. Now we are faced with a new threat. Day after day we are warned about the threat of doubling and trebling energy bills.  Too often the reaction is to run crying to nanny to plead for handouts.

Yes, of course the State should intervene to offset the impact of swingeing energy prices on the most vulnerable and help businesses to keep running. But just as urgently the energy market, which is getting away with murder, needs to be tackled.

In the midst of all this hysteria about the cost of living let’s not fall into what author Martin Amis called “a moronic inferno”, explaining it as “a chaotic state which no one has sufficient internal organisation to resist”. All too easy to get swept along with the entitled herd expecting the State to empty out the national purse to pay for every extra drain on our pockets. In the process we are losing that ‘internal organisation’, the ability to use our autonomy to find some solutions for ourselves.

It’s not a great idea to feel that you have no control over what happens in life and to give in to a feeling of victimhood. Those who have agency in their lives are generally happier, rather than feeling helpless. They may still be influenced by outside factors, but they can make choices.

So I am beginning my counter offensive or demand reduction plan on energy, especially electricity, as requested by our Minster for Turf Prevention Eamon Ryan who is in charge  and his National Energy Security Framework – using tactics from the bad old days. They might be small but they will make a difference.

Internal heating – stuff like porridge and hearty soups – works wonders, although I wouldn’t go so far as to add whiskey to porridge as one friend suggested. Batch cooking, making double quantities: one dish for now and one to freeze, saves both the cooker’s energy and mine. The saw will be sharpened the better to chop up free-fallen timber – the price of logs has already doubled locally due to our old friend supply and demand. I will get woolly minded with cosy cardies and dig out blankets to go over my knees when working.

I’ll cook more on burners using bottled gas which is a fraction of the cost of electricity, rather than the oven and when WFH (working from home) we will cosy up in the same room with the wood-burning stove and most especially try to use power at off-peak times.

Sure you know yourself, there are loads of ways to make energy reductions.

We are putting up with these prices partly due Russian aggression and to support of the Ukrainians and democracy. But only partly: energy prices could be brought down NOW if the Government would tackle providers and the EU would intervene to fix a pricing model which simply isn’t working where wholesale energy prices, including those for renewables, are dictated by the cost of gas and who is in charge of the gas pipe line supplying Europe? Putin. Our gas, though, comes from the UK.

Are electricity suppliers charging what they think they can get away with? How come Bord Gais were able to increase their operating profits by 74% for the first six months this year or Energia paid out €40 million in dividends? Or how was it that the last time I switched providers (a good idea to do this  every year or two) my bill  came down by 40%?). And how come on the wholesale side wind energy providers (Putin doesn’t affect our wind) were able to increase their charges seven-fold in the last two years?

Ultimately, and soon, in Ireland we need both more secure energy in the future otherwise we will face blackouts and we need firm governance of the energy sector.

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