By Michelle Devane and Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Householders will not see a significant reduction in energy prices over the next two years, the Environment Minister has warned.
Eamon Ryan said the Government would decide next spring and summer whether further energy credits need to be made.
The Green Party leader made the remarks at Government Buildings in Dublin as he announced details of a new €10 million fund aimed at helping households at risk of energy poverty this winter.
Cabinet ministers approved the Government’s new Energy Poverty Action Plan on Tuesday.
Under the plan the Environment Department will work with NGOs to give financial support to people struggling to meet energy costs, in particular those using pay-as-you-go electricity meters.
“My expectation, unfortunately, for the next year or two years is we’re not going to see significant reduction in gas prices,” Mr Ryan said.
“I think that’s the expectation across Europe, across the International Energy Agency. It’s due to international factors, not domestic factors. If that changed, if the war came to an end, we might see some differences.”
He added that while he did not expect prices to fall substantially, he did not expect energy prices to rise like they have done in the past six months.
“You cannot be certain as to what any one energy company will do,” Mr Ryan said.
“But my expectation is that the majority of the cost of higher gas prices has already been put into the bills, so depending on what happens in the gas markets, I don’t expect we’ll see the sort of increases we saw in the last six months.”
The minister urged people who are finding it difficult to pay their bills to engage with their suppliers directly or by contacting the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs), St Vincent de Paul or Alone, who can advocate on their behalf to suppliers.
The new fund will be available to bolster hardship funds which most suppliers have in place.
Mr Ryan said there are more than 200,000 electricity customers currently in arrears and a slightly smaller number are in arrears on their gas bills.
“This mechanism, with Mabs particularly, working with energy supply companies can provide additional cash payments in times of need, we think it’s an extra piece of the jigsaw that will help particularly those households using pre-paid gas or electricity meters.”
People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Mick Barry said the €10 million fund “does not go far enough, does not go nearly far enough”.
“I would say that a very large percentage of households in the state will burn through most or all of that during the course of this cold spell,” Mr Barry said.
“I spoke to a woman last night living on the north side of Cork city. True, her house is an old corporation house, it wouldn’t have the highest BER rating. She is, at the moment, spending 10 euros a day on the electric, €10 a day on the gas, and €7 a day on coal and blocks. So on day eight of the cold snap, she will burn through her €200.
“And she said to me, ‘I’ll be OK, we’ve got two wages coming into this house, we’ll get through Christmas alright’.
“But for a household that doesn’t have those wages coming in? What’s going to happen to them? They’ll wait until January of next year to get their next €200. Where are they on Christmas week? Where are they the week after Christmas?”
When asked how much more than €10 million is needed, he said: “I’m not in a position to give an exact figure, but it clearly needs to be a multiple of the 10 million that’s been put on the table at the moment.
“More than that, and this is the most important point, the moratorium on electricity and gas disconnections, which is there for bill pay customers, needs to be extended to pay-as-you-go customers as well.”