Our main projects include:
We scrutinise and approve the Power NI tariff review for domestic consumers. This is when the maximum price that domestic consumers of Power NI could pay for their electricity is decided. The process is normally carried out on a yearly basis, unless there is a need to increase or decrease tariffs mid-year.
Once our scrutiny is concluded and the tariff review is complete, we brief key stakeholders and issue an explanatory note with the analysis and rationale behind the tariff change. We then make a public announcement through the media and on our website.
Harmonisation of the electricity market systems refers to putting in place the same set of market procedures and associated IT market messages in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This effectively gives one single market system for the suppliers operating in both markets. This means they do not need to follow two sets of procedures to sell electricity in the two countries, therefore reducing costs.
We work with CER (the energy regulator in the Republic of Ireland), electricity suppliers and network companies across the island of Ireland to assess the best way forward in relation to harmonising retail processes.
Annual Energy Retail Report and Market Monitoring
The annual Energy Retail Report informs all interested parties, including consumers, policy makers and potential new investors, about the current extent and state of Northern Ireland’s gas and electricity retail sectors. It covers domestic and non-domestic consumers.
The Quarterly Transparency Reports are the vehicle to release some of the information collected within the monitoring project. Through these reports, we increase transparency on the retail energy sector to interested parties. Some of the information included refers to active suppliers per market segment, market shares, switching information and domestic prices.
As supply competition develops in the electricity and gas markets, we will continue to closely monitor market activity and behaviour of participant suppliers.
Social Action Plan
The Social Action Plan 2009-2012 contains a forward work plan for social action across all directorates at the Utility Regulator. It provides a co-ordinated strategy for the protection of consumers, and in particular vulnerable consumers, across the essential services of electricity, gas and water.
Protecting vulnerable consumers is one of our strategic themes and we have a statutory duty to have due regard for vulnerable consumers. Achieving this objective involves several tasks and, among them, we were asked by the Fuel Poverty Taskforce to assess issues and options around energy affordability in Northern Ireland.
The Utility Regulator does not have the statutory power to introduce an affordability or social tariff. A decision regarding this is for the Northern Ireland Executive.
Codes of Practice
We are working on developing a set of codes of practice for energy suppliers, regarding marketing, payment of bills, provision of services for vulnerable customers, energy efficiency, complaints and prepayment.
We need to fully understand what consumers perceive are the benefits as a result of competition and which aspects of competition they most value. This will allow us to progress the development of competition in a way that maximises the benefits and value.
In 2010 we conducted market research to allow us to gather and better understand consumer views on competition in the energy market. The project was undertaken jointly with CER on an all-island basis. The research fieldwork included domestic and non-domestic consumers.
In 2011 we focused research on domestic consumers in Northern Ireland.
Third Package of European Energy Legislation
The Third Package (also known as IME3), published in August 2009, consists of a set of two Directives (covering the gas and electricity markets separately) and three regulations that are the EU’s latest legislative measures to further increase the scope for and consumer benefits of competition in the gas and electricity markets.
The key elements of the Third Package include:
* more enhanced consumer protection measures to provide encouragement to be more active in the market
* more stringent requirements for separating the companies which own/operate networks from the companies that use the networks, whereby reducing barriers for new suppliers coming into the market
* more powers and independence for national regulators
* greater cooperation between Member States
* creation of the Agency for the Co-operation of Energy Regulators (ACER)
Many of the requirements are not new, and were part of the second package on market liberalisation in the energy sector (2003).
Some of the Third Package measures apply to all consumers. Other measures, including the right to a fair and transparent contract, a good standard of service and complaint-handling, free switching within three weeks and prompt final billing on changing supplier are only applicable to domestic consumers.
The Directives also require Member States to define vulnerable consumers, ensure they have adequate protection and that all consumers are provided with an energy consumer checklist detailing practical information on energy consumer rights.
DETI has responsibility for transposing the obligations of the EU legislation into Northern Ireland legislation. However we have been working alongside them, along with colleagues from other directorates. We are also working with colleagues in gas and electricity directorates and key stakeholders (including CCNI) on implementation issues.