Dáil Contribution on Electricity Costs Emergency Measure

Dáil Contribution on Electricity Costs Emergency Measure

Full Transcript: There seems to be a broad consensus that something needs to be done. I am hearing from Sinn Féin that they will be supporting the passage of the Bill through the House. I understand that there is a difference in the approach that Sinn Féin would take over the Government parties. I happen to disagree with the Sinn Féin approach. I think it is too close to the Tory model. I think it would result in a huge wealth transfer to people who need it least, energy companies included.

Putting that to one side, everybody in the House agrees on one thing, which is that people who are living through this energy crisis absolutely need help, and need help urgently. That is something that this Bill provides. The provisions of the Bill are reasonably straightforward. They were rehearsed when the previous energy credit was put in place. Deficiencies were identified in the previous iteration of the electricity credit, which I hope we will put right in this legislation, for example, in the specific case of members of the Travelling Community, where there might be one MPRN across a number of families. A basic equity test is failed if each of those families is not getting what they are entitled to in terms of the energy credit. Similarly, if the energy account is in the name of a landlord and the benefit is not being passed onto the tenant, it fails an equity test. It is not something that we should be standing over as a Government. I very much hope that we have put provisions in place that will prevent that happening again.

I think it was a good idea to make changes to the NORA levy. I support that notion. As the Minister of State said, there is sufficient energy supply already there in terms of the NORA levy. I think it is a wise decision.

I want to broaden out the scope of my contribution. I was thinking that there are four basic objectives, that as a consumer, a customer and a policymaker, I want to consider in respect of energy. First, I want to reduce my energy costs. Everybody wants to reduce their energy costs. Hand in hand with that, I want to reduce my energy use. I want to figure out when is the best time for me to use the energy that I am going to use in terms of price. There is also a third element, and I must say that I do think people want to play their part in mitigating the energy crisis, and particularly the issues with the supply of electricity. I want to know when to use energy in a way that is going to relieve the stress that is on the system that we all know is there. I think people have that broader sense of civic duty.

The fourth element is that I want to promote the microgeneration of renewables so that energy is putting money back into people’s pockets. However, I get the sense that my four priorities may not be priorities that are shared by our energy companies; in fact, we may be at cross purposes. It may be the case that what the energy companies want me to do is not to reduce my usage and bills and not to promote microgeneration. Presumably, they would like to see less pressure on the grid, however. What can I say in support of this assertion? First, I had a look at microgeneration tariffs and payments today, before making this speech. Bord Gáis has no published tariffs for microgeneration. If I make any errors here, I will be happy to correct the record afterwards.

There is no published tariff and payment can be expected once per year. I could find no information online on rates or payment frequency for PrepayPower. SSE Airtricity’s payments will be 14 cent per KWh, with two payments per year. I could go further with this but suffice to say there is a variation in the price being offered per kWh. I do not think paying somebody once or twice a year is acceptable. I do not think that is the carrot we need to promote microgeneration. From talking to constituents who have installed solar panels on their roofs, I can tell the House it is not easy to get that feed-in tariff. Obstacles and hurdles are being put in people’s way and they are finding it difficult to access that payment. Energy companies are dragging their heels.

I had a smart meter installed in my house recently. I was expecting the world of information to open in front of me to allow me to figure out when I should use energy and how I am going to save my money. However, I have no access to that information. The only way I can access that information at present is if I sign up for a smart meter tariff. I do not currently have the information to know if I will do better on a smart meter tariff. Somebody has that information and one can be sure they are using it for their corporate benefit. I do not have access to that information. How am I to know what plan is going to benefit me most?

I had a research note prepared, which states that the number of tariff options out there could be described as baffling. That is from a Green Party researcher. There was a similar discussion in my local membership WhatsApp group. Members of the Green Party were trying to compare, contrast and understand the different tariffs out there for people with smart meters. We could not make head nor tail of it. Those are people who are highly literate in respect of energy policy. If I cannot make head nor tail of it, how can I expect people of a low literacy level to be able to understand when they do not have access to information and the information they have is difficult to decipher?

Deputy Whitmore rightly pointed out there is a €1.7 billion wealth transfer of taxpayer money. Deputy Barry was correct that consumers will benefit from it but eventually that wealth transfer will end up with the energy companies. Should be we be considering conditionality? Should these tariffs be easily comprehensible to people? Should we make sure that people have access to the information that their smart meters are generating? Should we ensure that energy companies are not putting hurdles in the way of people who want to benefit from microgeneration on their homes?