70% of Irish households would be in energy poverty in worst-case scenarios drawn up for crisis group

Separate documents show officials flagged risks about capacity to maintain ‘civil order’ in a worst-case scenario interruption to fuel supply

Almost 70 per cent of households would be plunged into energy poverty in worst-case scenarios drawn up for the State’s energy crisis oversight group.

A presentation delivered in June to the Energy Supply Emergency Group (ESEG) shows that if recent price increases for energy were to be repeated then 69.2 per cent of households would be spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy – the definition of energy poverty.

The estimates were drawn up by the ESRI. Some of its calculations were released in mid-June in a paper which showed that energy poverty had risen to a record high of 29.4 per cent, and could rise as high as 43 per cent if prices rose again by 25 per cent.

However, the ESRI also drafted private analysis showing the impact of even higher increases. These were drawn up for the ESEG – the group of officials co-ordinating Ireland’s response to the energy security crisis, which was convened earlier this year. The presentation was released to The Irish Times under Freedom of Information laws.

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They show that a 50 per cent price increase would lead to 54.4 per cent of households being in energy poverty, while a 100 per cent increase would bring this figure up to 69.2 per cent. The reference period for price increases is January 2021 to April 2022.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) estimates the cost of energy products and utilities increased by 48 per cent in the year to July. Energy prices have been the main driver of rampant inflation in Ireland.

Separately, internal documents show officials flagged risks about the “capacity to maintain societal function and civil order” in a worst-case scenario interruption to fuel supply. They outline how the “curtailment of normal societal functions” would be used as a response.

An exercise in May envisaged a range of reductions in the supply of diesel into the country, ranging from minor disruptions to the arrival of cargoes into Irish ports to an “enduring 50 to 100 per cent supply reduction of diesel into the country” caused by a significant global or regional upheaval.

Documents shows how users would have their access to fuel restricted with “rationing or curtailment of fuel for non-priority use”, and the Government effectively “taking control” of the fuel supply system. Internal documents show officials working on plans to assign new statutory powers to Eamon Ryan, the Minister for the Environment, “to control the use of fuel, establishing an emergency planning register of suppliers”.

It says that fuel allocation would be “to emergency and critical services only”, and under the heading of risks it puts “capacity to maintain societal function and civil order”. It outlines how in extreme circumstances “prioritisation of transport/home heating/industry vs Powergen” would have to be assessed.

More benign scenarios in the exercise still suggest a significant intervention from the State. If there were regularly missed cargoes of diesel at Irish terminals – between seven and 15 ships not arriving per month – the State’s oil emergency allocation scheme would be activated.

“Demand restraint” measures would be included in the response, including “statutory-based” measures, with a “significant role for An Garda Sióchána and potentially Defence Forces”. Diesel equivalent to that needed for entire transport consumption could be redirected to power plants to keep them running in the event of a gas shortfall.

Asked for comment on the fuel poverty exercise, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment said the Energy Supply Emergency Group “examines a range of potential scenarios and options” to better understand impacts on the energy system and to develop measures to mitigate them. “The development of scenarios and/or options is a matter for the group.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times