The owner of a small coffee shop in the centre of Athlone was shocked when she opened her electricity bill this week and realised she had been charged almost €10,000 for just over two months of energy usage.
The cost of electricity to the Poppyfields cafe for 73 days from early June until the end of August came in at €9,024.70 an increase of 250 per cent in just 12 months. There doesn’t include the €812.22 in VAT, which brought her total bill to €9,836.92.
It has left Geraldine Dolan wondering if she will be able to continue running the business she has owned for the last 16 years as Ireland heads into what is certain to be a winter of rising energy prices and cost of living spikes.
Meanwhile, the umbrella group which represents small and medium businesses in Ireland has warned that the experience of the cafe in Athlone is being replicated across the country and suggested that the Government had failed to appreciate how “toxic” the issue of spiralling energy prices was likely to be this winter.
“I was working in the cafe on Monday morning when the bill arrived,” Ms Dolan said. “When I opened it I thought I was seeing things or had missed a decimal point. It really took the wind out of my sails.”
She has been an active energy switcher in recent years and moved from Bord Gáis Energy to Iberdrola, a Spanish-based energy provider at the end of last year.
That company exited the Irish market earlier this year citing challenging market conditions in the face of rising energy prices.
As a result of that Decision, Ms Dolan’s cafe was automatically switched to Electric Ireland — the supplier of last resort in the event that a company pulls out of the Irish market at short notice.
While she was switched to the bigger company without any loss of supply, she did lose the switching discount she had been offered by Iberdrola.
Instead of paying for her electricity at a discounted rate, she transferred on to the standard unit rate charged by Electric Ireland. Under the rules in place for when a company leaves the market, Ms Dolan, like others, had no option to switch providers until the start of September at the earliest.
“We have gone from paying a daily rate of €34 last year to paying €123 per day now,” she said. . “When those figures are spread the cost of a year it means an annual electricity bill which would have been around €12,000 is now going to be around €45,000. There is no way we will be able to cope with that. We will pay this bill because we have used the electricity but we would not be able to pay at that level every two months.”
She has been in business in the centre of Athlone for 16 years and her cafe — which is open for less than 10 hours a day and was fulled refurbished with energy-saving equipment weeks before the pandemic hit in 2020 — can cater for around 60 customers inside and out.
“We are going to have to pass on some of the costs to our customers but we certainly won’t be able to pass anything close to all of it on. The customers are struggling with the cost of living crisis too. We have shortened our menus and changed out opening hours but I would be afraid for the winter when things are only going to get worse.”
In response to queries from The Irish Times, a spokesman for Electric Ireland said the company would not comment on individual customer bills but added that it was “acutely conscious of the impact of price rises on our customers and encourage our business customers to engage with us if difficulties arise”.
He said wholesale prices have risen “at unprecedented rates and [are] currently many multiples of what would just a year ago have been deemed normal wholesale energy prices and as we have all seen, is now a pan-European issue.”
Neil McDonnell of small and medium businesses umbrella group Isme said Ms Dolan’s experience was one which many businesses all over the country were living through with some seeing energy price increase of well in excess of 300 per cent.
“The room to manoeuvre for many businesses is tiny and they effectively have two options, they can increase their prices or reduce their operating hours and neither of those options is attractive for anyone.
He called for the Government to take immediate steps to offset the dramatic spike in the price of energy.
“There is talk of a deal being done in the WRC but the reality is the management of energy prices should be a far higher priority than any public sector pay deal and I don’t think the Government realise how toxic this is going to be, particularly in the winter if we have blackouts and rationing and that is now a very real possibility this winter.”