MORE THAN 100,000 domestic customers of Electric Ireland have begun receiving higher electricity bills – because they are not using enough electricity.
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 €9.45 per two-monthly bill, or €56.70 per year.
Domestic customers have been informed of the increase in bill inserts, in some cases by letter, in the past fortnight.
Among them was Philip Campbell, who lives in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, who has cut his electricity use dramatically in the past few months to save money.
“My bills used to be about €250 but I have got that down to between €80 and €125 per bill, just by being a lot more careful.”
He says he was alarmed when he got the letter last Thursday. “It’s just annoying to think that I’ve been making all this effort to save electricity and now I might be charged more. I think I would easily sometimes use less than two units a day.”
However, an ESB spokesman said the increase was “really aimed at vacant dwellings and premises, or holiday homes that are vacant most of the year”. The average daily use over the billing period would be measured, he said.
“Two units per day would be consumed by, for example, a small fridge-freezer on all day, by cooking on a small plate for 20 minutes, by having four 60W bulbs on for three hours, or by running a cycle on a washing machine.”
He said the company was incurring losses on dwellings with “very low consumption” of electricity.
“There are ongoing costs, including meter reading, sending out bills, administration, customer service, which are associated with providing electricity and we have been making a loss on about 10 per cent of our accounts.”
The company has 1.3 million domestic accounts. The average household uses 14 units per day.
“This extra charge will enable us to recover these losses. This is not about discouraging energy-efficiency. The other option was to increase all customers’ standing charges.”
The extra charge will only apply to electricity accounts and not gas.
Asked if someone could save money by having their electricity disconnected while their dwelling was vacant, the spokesman said it would be matter for the individual. “They would have to bear in mind there is a charge for disconnection and reconnection of about €70 each, plus VAT.”
Both Airtricity and Bord Gáis said they were not planning an increased low-user standing charge for energy. In urban areas, Airtricity’s daily standing charge for electricity is 36.3 cent per day, and Bord Gáis’s is 32 cent per day. This now compares to 48.3 cent per day for Electric Ireland.
There are on average 100 gas and electricity disconnections everyday in Ireland.