Northern Ireland

Power NI electricity bills to increase by 17.8% from July

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Media captionKerstie Forsyth from Power NI said prices were increasing due to the cost of wholesale electricity

Northern Ireland's biggest energy company, Power NI, is set to increase its household electricity bills by 17.8%.

The price hike will take effect from 1 July.

It means the average household supplied by Power NI will pay an extra £90 per year. Small businesses and farmers also face an 17.8% hike.

Power NI's managing director said it regretted the increase, but added that it was in response to world fuel costs over which the firm had no control.

In a statement, Stephen McCully said: "There is never a good time to increase prices and it is something we do reluctantly.

'Unavoidable'

"We were able to cut prices last year when many other UK electricity suppliers were raising theirs and we will always look for opportunities to reduce prices again should circumstances allow."

The price hike has been approved by the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator, Shane Lynch, who said it was necessary due to significant increases in wholesale energy costs.

Mr Lynch said: "We regret having to approve tariff rises and are aware that Power NI's increase will add to the difficult times that households and businesses are experiencing.

"We only approve tariff increases after extensive scrutiny, and have done so to ensure that this increase is unavoidable."

The regulator said Northern Ireland's heavy reliance on fossil fuels left it "particularly vulnerable to rising energy costs on the international energy markets".

However, he said that some companies could "smooth out" the prices and take lower profit margins.

"While Power NI had the right to put their prices up, and under good regulation, we've got to allow them to have that right, with competition now in the marketplace they didn't necessarily have to exercise that right and to put prices up by this amount," he said.

"There are other suppliers in the market who are offering lower prices than Power NI and I would seriously encourage consumers to shop around."

Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said the price hike was "very disappointing".

"This is a small business economy, so this will hit our economy very hard," he said.

"An 18% increase, it's very hard for a small business to budget for that sort of whopping hike. For many of our members in the retail sector they are already paying high costs with things like refrigeration that's vital to their business.

"They'll be waking up this morning very depressed at the news."

Antoinette McKeown of the Consumer Council said they were hoping the other three domestic electricity suppliers would keep their prices as low as possible.

"Families in Northern Ireland have been hardest hit by a steep dive in disposable income with just £54 per week after bills compared to £150 per week for consumers in GB," she said.

"The Consumer Council is very aware that this announcement is a further blow for consumers at a time when the overall cost of living is rising and incomes are static or falling.

"It is really important that consumers do shop around. There is competition in the market, switching is easy and they should look into it."

Colin Neill of Pubs of Ulster said the industry had suffered a 30% reduction in its profit margin, but had not passed the price increases on to the customer.

"We are very concerned about the announcement by Power NI to increase their cost of electricity by 18% for small business customers," he said.

"This will have a severe direct impact on our members at a time when they have had to reduce costs and already suffered from a loss in profits."

In the Power NI statement, Mr McCully added: "We regret having to make the difficult decision to increase prices, especially since we cut prices by over 14% last October.

"Prices are roughly back to what they were in 2011, since the previous cut is unfortunately now cancelled out."

"The fact is that so much is dependent upon world fuel costs, which are outside our control and which have a volatile effect on the price we pay for wholesale electricity," Mr McCully said.

In a statement, Northern Ireland's second biggest power supplier, Airtricity, said: "Airtricity always keeps its prices under review, however, we have no plans to make any announcements today."

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