AS I SEE IT
BY MARIANNE HERON
February can be a lean month and it’s going to look leaner for those on tight budgets when they get their latest inflated energy bills. It seems wrong and completely out of proportion that a bill for electricity which has gone up by 53% in the last year can swallow an entire week’s pension once every two months.
During winter chill, this must have a cruel effect on the one third of over 66-year-olds who depend solely on their State pension not to mention all the folk on their knees financially due to the pandemic.
Yes, I know that the Government have promised a once-off payment of €100 to compensate for the extortionate hike in electricity prices and there is the winter fuel allowance of €33 a week from September to April for those who qualify. And we are grateful, but that’s not the point.
There needs to be proportionality about the cost of living. There are howls of protest over high rents which prevent first-time buyers getting on the housing ladder. In most areas of the household spend there is an element of choice — you can go where the prices are lower, or go without things. But when it comes to fuel prices our hands are tied, we need to keep warm, cook and have light.
Our pre-tax electricity prices are the highest in Europe. Already 23% higher than the European average, they are going to go higher. There needs to be long term subventions.
The average bill for electricity is over €200 per two monthly bill, that’s based on an average of 24 cents per kilowatt hour plus PSO levy and standing charge.
It’s the everyday worry over fuel bills that get you down: heat off I’m writing this column wearing five layers of clothes and mittens.
There is some wriggle room for consumers though. Given the competition between the 14 different providers, switching between them can result in a lower rate, something that the majority of us don’t do.
“Roughly about 15 to 20% of people switch each year and around 10% negotiate a better rate with their provider which means that 50 to 60% haven’t switched and are probably overpaying,” according to Daragh Cassidy of Bonkers.co. A free service which helps consumers to compare and save by switching on household bills Bonkers compares the cost of services like broadband, banks and house insurance.
Last year there were 35 separate price increases for electricity and more are expected. Why is this happening? The reasons are multifarious. We are still too dependent on fossil fuels where prices have rocketed to generate electricity, with 40% still coming from gas. The tariffs to ESB networks and EirGrid by suppliers for the network and the grid respectively have gone up and this cost has been passed on to consumers. Also, some of the power plants have been out of action.
It costs money to invest in wind turbines, anaerobic digestion plants or solar panels to generate more of our energy from renewable sources and, guess what. it was quite windless last year.
Recently I wrote to my current provider questioning why my bill for electricity was 50 % higher than the average and wondering why the bill remains the same even if I have been away for a period. The only response that I got was a circular claiming that I could make considerable savings but it turned out that in order to do so I would have to spend tens of thousands on retro fitting, solar panels or a heat exchange system.
Maybe electricity providers should stop spending money on sponsoring TV programmes or advertising campaigns and pass the savings on to their customers.