Ryan under pressure to investigate surging electricity prices

Cost of energy here is so high many families will struggle to pay their bills this winter

Pressure is growing on Eamon Ryan, the Minister for the Environment, Communications and Climate Action, to order an investigation into surging electricity prices. While the newly-formed Independent Electricity Suppliers of Ireland did not call outright for an inquiry this week, it said both Ryan and the ESB had serious questions to answer about the problem.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has called directly for an investigation. He has also pointed out that the European Commission recently told member states to probe possible anti-competitive behaviour in electricity markets.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), which is responsible for the energy industry, monitors generators to ensure open and transparent competition, and the unit responsible can follow up any issues that it identifies. Equally, the regulator can investigate individual complaints it receives.

There is nothing to stop any party who believes they have a grievance against the ESB or any other generator from making a complaint. Similarly, as the regulator, it would seem the natural organisation to carry out any investigation the Government, or the Oireachtas, deems necessary.

But whether it is the CRU or some other body that investigates the electricity market, that will only be a first step. The big problem is that energy prices here are high, so high in fact that many families will struggle to pay their bills this winter. That is likely to remain the case for the next year or so, partly because natural gas prices, a key driver of increases, remain at multiples of what they were a year ago. And, in Ireland, and the Republic particularly, demand is growing while supply is squeezed.

Any inquiry will have to establish how that problem can be eased for households and employers in the short term.

The issue is becoming so politically contentious that we now have a senior Government backbencher among those raising it most frequently in the Dáil. On that basis alone, an inquiry of some kind into high electricity prices could be on the cards very soon.