Barry Cowen says he sent controversial documents about ESB prices to regulator

State company rejects allegations that it profited from electricity supply squeeze

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen:  “I have already raised issues with the regulator that I think need to be investigated by the authorities that are there to do so,” he said. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen: “I have already raised issues with the regulator that I think need to be investigated by the authorities that are there to do so,” he said. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

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Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has sent documents that sparked controversy over ESB’s wholesale electricity prices to regulators, the deputy confirmed on Thursday.

The State company has rejected allegations that it profited from last year’s electricity supply squeeze, and that it kept bids for cash supports to build power plants deliberately low to deter likely rivals from entering the Irish market.

The ESB said it has written to Mr Cowen saying he should forward to regulators material that he says shows the company’s wholesale prices added €250 million to customers’ electricity bills between July and September last year.

The TD confirmed that he passed the information to the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) some time ago. “I have already raised issues with the regulator that I think need to be investigated by the authorities that are there to do so,” he said.

The ESB published a series of papers this week that it says provide evidence refuting allegations made against it by Mr Cowen and several competitors.

“Despite our engagement with the media, and our efforts to engage with Deputy Cowen, the allegations, which appear to be based on limited understanding of how the electricity market operates, continue to be reported,” the company said.

“Reports on the matters have also made reference to a document or reports which has been made available to Deputy Cowen and/or the media – which ESB has not seen.”

The company said it had prepared detailed statements addressing allegations about its wholesale electricity prices, power plant capacity auctionbids and a contract it was awarded for emergency generation last year.

Media coverage

The ESB confirmed that its board, chaired by former KPMG managing partner, Terence O’Rourke, was aware of recent media coverage of the allegations and the company’s response to it. Management continues to update the board, its statement said.

The CRU confirmed this week that it has received “a number of complaints about a market participant” which it is investigating.

The commission did not name the company as it only identifies businesses when it finds violations of market or competition rules and penalises that organisation.

However, it is understood to be the ESB, about which at least one competitor and Mr Cowen have raised concerns with the regulator in recent months.

The ESB says it is not aware of any formal CRU investigation, but points out that it has told regulators in the Republic and Northern Ireland of various charges raised against it last year.

The company maintains that it has fully answered any questions the authorities asked as a result.

The allegations

The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, says it does not believe the allegations against the ESB and has full confidence in the company’s integrity.

“If market participants or others have any concerns in relation to the operation of the electricity market in Ireland, the department advises they raise these matters directly with the CRU,” a statement said.

It blames rising natural gas prices on world markets for the high cost of power here. The fuel is used to generate more than half Irish electricity needs.

Household bills have risen by as much as €1,300 a year according to some estimates.

Natural gas prices topped £5 a therm, the unit in which it is sold, in December, more than five times what it cost 12 months earlier.

This week Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey warned a British parliamentary committee that gas prices could remain high into 2023.

That prediction could heighten Irish Government fears about the political fallout of rising energy prices.

In a bid to quell growing consumer anger at rising prices, the Coalition last year agreed to refund €100 to all electricity customers in March.

However, most in the energy industry figures believe that prices will remain high through this year and potentially into 2023.

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