The Commission for Utilities Regulation (CRU) told the Oireachtas commission that there will be no outage this winter for anyone.
The regulator for the Committee on Environment and Climate Action said the complete cessation of disconnections will operate from December 1 to the end of February.
Bríd Smith, Solidarity-PBP TD, recounted how a 78-year-old woman in her constituency in Dublin south of downtown stopped using her electric chair due to rising energy costs.
CRU chief Aoife MacEvilly said anyone who relied on a medical device “cannot be disconnected for reasons of non-payment” of the bill.
For the next category of vulnerability, those who face the possibility of a winter disconnection due to age or health, there will be no outage during the six months from October to next March.
A complete ban on disconnection will be in effect for three months from December to February.
“There are not enough clients who are registered as being at risk” because many are not aware of the protections available to them, Ms Makeville told the committee.
She said CRU “puts a lot of money” into advertising to encourage people to sign up as vulnerable.
Karen Trant, the company’s director of policy, said there is “anecdotal evidence that people are detaching themselves,” but there is little information available on this, and no clear trend.
Réada Cronin, Sinn Féin TD, noted that price regulation may now be guaranteed because electricity is an “essential service”.
She said that some people – particularly the elderly – are “dying of the cold” and still pay the flat fee is a “horrific” prospect.
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Cost Isn’t “The Only Problem”
The CRU told the commission that it had no authority to stop energy companies from raising costs, either standing fees or the unit cost.
Sinn Féin’s Darren O’Rourke asked who, if anyone, energy companies are “accountable to” when they raise permanent fees.
While Alan Farrell, Fine Gael TD said rising permanent fees is an “increasingly big issue.”
Christopher O’Sullivan, Fianna Fáil TD, said capping the unit cost of electricity is the only way to “have a real impact on consumer bills.”
But Ms MacEvillly said unit cost was “determined by competitive markets, we have no role in regulating these fees, and we have not sought new powers in this area”.
But, she added, “I don’t think it’s fair to say that cheaper is the only problem for customers.”
Ms Makevelli said the EU’s moves to “recover” windfall profits were the “right way” to help consumers, rather than leaving it up to “individual regulators”.
Smart meters ‘hopeless’
I asked Greens Senator Pauline O’Reilly how many smart meters had been installed, and she was told they would be “at least a million by the end of this year”.
When asked how many of those are using smart tariffs, Ms Trant said it was “probably in the thousands”.
Richard Bruton, deputy to Fine Gael, dismissed the scheme’s management as “hopeless”.
As a former minister for climate action, he also noted that the CRU is not fully using its powers to tackle the energy crisis.
“You are the regulator,” said Representative Broughton, “in a pivotal position,” and demanded, “Do you not have more power than you exercise?”
“There is no point in attracting” people to change, he said, and instead called on the CRU to force the necessary changes.
“Do you benefit, for example, from yellow warnings about weather?” he asked. , suggesting that the remote control unit (CRU) use alerts—for example, for cold weather and low winds this evening—to pressure people to be aware of their energy consumption.
Ms. McEvely acknowledged that “we can do more”.
Big price increases
The head of the CRU had told the committee that the regulator was “extremely concerned” about the impact of “exceptionally high and volatile” prices on clients at risk.
With local bills increasing dramatically, the CRU acknowledged that many are “already struggling to pay”.
Ms. Makevelli outlined the measures she offers to help those facing difficulties.
These include paying off extended debts to those in debt and helping those in cash-strapped prepaid counters.
She also expressed concern about the “current gap in maritime safety regulation”, saying that introducing a legislative framework at “the earliest opportunity” is “inevitable”.
The CRU chief added that planning delays and delays in building “critical infrastructure” “add high costs and increase the security of supply risks for Irish consumers”.
It noted a “slight decrease” in the number of electricity customers who fell into arrears between March and June, but a “widespread stable increase” in gas customers who fell into arrears.
Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said that reporting on RTÉ, Revealing that multinational companies incurred financial losses due to the freezing of data centersdisturbing because they paint a “bad picture of the homeland.”
“Do you think you are fit for purpose, given what happened?” asked the CRU, focusing its critique on the “general structure” of the committee, rather than any individual.
Ms MacEvilly said an additional 73 employees are being hired by the CRU, and information gathering is one area they will target, rather than relying on third parties.
The committee also heard that there is no framework for regulating district heating, which committee chair TD Greens TD Brian Leyden said was “astonishing”.
Both he and Breed Smith said this leaves those customers too exposed in the event the power providers pull out.