Higher bills 'for vacant houses'


Many of the higher energy bills for not using enough electricity may be for vacant holiday cottages, Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte said this morning.

His comments came after it emerged that more than 100,000 domestic customers of Electric Ireland are being billed with a "low user standing charge" if they use two units or less per day.

A new “low user standing charge” was introduced by the ESB-controlled supplier with effect from February 1st, targeting customers who “use an average of 2 units (2 kWhs) or less per day in any billing period”. Households not using enough electricity are seeing their bills increase by 15.5 cent a day or €56.70 per year.

"I suspect if you look behind that story … you are going to find it is a lot of holiday cottages vacant for 10 months of the year or more. I am not sure it is earth-shattering in terms of its implications,"  the Minister said.

The real issue was to enhance measures for insulation and energy conservation, he said.

Mr Rabbitte was speaking at the launch of a review of infrastructure by Engineers Ireland. The report said faster broadband communications speeds of 100Mbps or more should be developed within 12 months and recommended the State continue to be involved in the deployment of communications infrastructure.

Mr Rabbitte said the provision of high-speed broadband outside of urban areas was "likely to require State intervention", he said. He said he expected to have the report of the taskforce on broadband before St Patrick's Day.

Engineers Ireland raised concern about the loss of skilled workers abroad. It would be "a shame" to lose engineering skills that have been built up, director general John Power said.

"The important thing is we can't afford to lose a lot of the skills that we have developed and that is something we have to look at," he added. "We don't mind people going overseas who chose to go overseas to gain experience and come back."

Mr Rabbitte said it was not up to the Government to stop people going abroad if there was work. In the past the State has "benefited largely" from emigration because many return with added skills, he said.

The State of Ireland 2012 report warns there is a "vital" ongoing need to reinvest in productive infrastructure, despite the economic crisis, to attract investment and jobs.

Mr Power said that a lack of gas storage was "one significant " vulnerability in the energy area because Ireland was at the end of a gas pipeline from Europe.

The report said there was an ongoing need to improve speeds of trains, upgrade regional roads and provide funding for flood relief measures.