'Political convenience' governs energy policy


POLITICAL CONVENIENCE is the governing policy of energy regulation in Ireland, an economics conference has been told. Energy consultant Paul Hunt claimed “the quiet life” was the basis for electricity and gas regulation in Ireland and that the energy regulator was set up by the political establishment to protect the ESB.

He told the Dublin Economics Workshop annual economic policy conference that the Commission for Energy Regulation was “captured from its inception”, which had resulted in a “pretty devastating impact on consumers”.

Mr Hunt, who previously worked for Bord Gáis, also said Irish electricity consumers had been “gouged” out of between €2 billion and €2.5 billion over the last 11 years for investment and expansion that should properly have come from external borrowing.

But Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte rejected the claims and said the independent energy regulator would also take great offence at the notion that it was skewed to comply with Government policy.

Mr Rabbitte, who attended but did not address the conference, said “the public will pay one way or the other” for energy costs, and there were huge costs in investment to update the grid and to comply with the target to have 40 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

“We can’t do that unless the grid is able to adapt and take it.”

He said that where wind energy “is most propitious – on the west coast – the network is weakest”.

Grid links were being constructed between Cork and Kildare and between Mayo and the midlands, which were eight- to 10-year major investment projects.

At the conference in Galway, Mr Hunt insisted “more efficient” funding by power suppliers would have resulted in savings of at least 10 per cent for consumers and businesses, where the funding came from external borrowing.