The state body tasked with protecting the interests of energy consumers has vetoed it only twice in the last five years.
Almost all of the proposed increases in bills – 17 out of 19 – during this time were rejected by the housing regulator.
According to the regulator, its role is to regulate electricity, gas, water and sanitation in Northern Ireland, while promoting the interests of consumers.
Energy spending has almost doubled in the last year as suppliers face high wholesale gas costs due to the war in Ukraine and a surge in demand after the global economic recovery after the blockade.
But there are calls to strengthen the regulator’s powers so that it can force energy companies to finance price increases at the expense of profits, rather than shifting costs to consumers.
So far this year the regulator has adopted five price increases from Power NI, firmus energy and SSE Airtricity Gas. Customers who use gas and electricity face a total electricity bill of around £ 2,000 a year.
Over the past five years, the regulator has confirmed that 19 applications for price increases have been submitted – only two have not been approved.
Of those approved, four were from electricity supplier Power NI, six from SSE Airtricity Gas and seven from Energy.
The regulator also approved materials from the price reduction: one from Power NI, one from SSE Airtricity Gas and three from firmus energy.
There were no more details about which companies were rejected and how much they wanted to raise prices.
Details of the utility regulator’s decisions were revealed by Economy Minister Gordon Lyons after questions from People Before Profit MLA Jerry Carroll.
Mr Carroll said: “The utility regulator has only legal regulatory powers to control how wholesale prices are reflected in consumers’ bills, not to reduce the profits of energy companies or instruct them to absorb costs.
“Given that consumers bear the brunt of the exceptional growth of wholesale costs, I believe that the Minister of Economy, the utility regulator and all relevant bodies must now consider taking urgent and exceptional measures to reduce the profits of energy companies, leaving large energy companies state-owned. and other measures to alleviate the financial burden borne by severely affected households. ”
A spokesman for the utility regulator said: “The utility regulator regulates the prices of three suppliers in Northern Ireland – Power NI, SSE Airtricity Gas Supply and Firmus Energy. Our job is to rigorously inspect vendor materials before any changes in tariffs are allowed, and our tariff review is conducted in consultation with the Northern Ireland Consumer Council and the Department of Economics.
“We cannot and do not approve of any changes in supplier tariffs unless we are fully convinced that these changes are necessary. At the same time, we are required to make sure that consumer bills reflect the costs of suppliers, and we have no legal authority to force companies to charge less than it costs them to supply energy.
“Over the last 18 months, the exceptional increase in wholesale energy costs has been the main reason for both the number and the degree of increase in consumer bills in Northern Ireland, which has also occurred in the UK and Ireland. However, if wholesale prices do start to fall, our regulatory system in Northern Ireland allows us to act to ensure that the reductions are fully passed on to consumers as soon as possible. ”
According to the latest reports for 2020/21, the salaries of 80 employees of the regulator have grown from almost 6 million pounds to 6.4 million pounds.
According to the annual report and the report, the chief executive of the municipal regulator John French is paid up to 135,000 pounds a year. His predecessor Jenny Piper, who performed the role from 2013 to 2020, received between £ 145,000 and £ 150,000 in 2020/21.
Ulster MLA unionist Steve Aiken was surprised that only two applications for the increase were rejected. He said the Northern Ireland energy market could be seen as too small to regulate itself and should instead be under the auspices of British regulator Ofgem.
Mr Aiken added: “We will encourage the regulator to take a closer look at the profits companies make because we may not be able to move into the winter with what could eventually become a 100% increase in energy prices in space. year, because it would be, to put it mildly, catastrophic. ”
The utility regulator is managed by the Department of Economics, to which comment has been requested.