When regulating monopoly network companies, either by market sector or area, the Utility Regulator seeks to protect consumers by taking decisions on prices, investment priorities and targeted outcomes our service providers are expected to deliver. Consumer engagement is the means we ensure our decisions are relevant to consumers’ needs, in the absence of competitive market conditions. A partnership approach to consumer engagement has served the Utility Regulator well in recent major price controls, ensuring limited specialist skills are pooled across our regulated companies, the consumer representative (CCNI), parent department (DfI for NI Water and DfE for the energy network companies) and ourselves.
The pooled expertise for RP6, the price control for NIE Networks which will determine the future shape of the electricity network up to 2024, was the Consumer Engagement Advisory Panel (CEAP). The CEAP sought the views of householders and businesses on the aspects of electricity network services that matter most to them. NIE Networks will maintain and develop the electricity network in line with a programme of investment over the RP6 period from 2017 to 2024.
The CEAP expect that the conversation with consumers will continue through the RP6 period and beyond, especially on fuel poverty issues and where different consumer groups state a different willingness to pay for service improvements. Any lessons learnt will be built into future price controls the Utility Regulator determines upon, especially the next big price control with NI Water.
The following research report entitled, “Empowering consumers; beginning a conversation (2016)” summarises the CEAP’s conversation with consumers and will inform the development of RP6 – from NIE Networks’ business plan submission through to the Utility Regulator’s price control determination. Additional supplementary reports commissioned from Perceptive Insight Market Research / Queen’s University, Belfast can also be found at the NIE Networks’ RP6 Document Library.