"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
HUNDREDS of thousands of families face an increase of more than €150 in their gas and electricity bills this year, the Irish Independent can reveal.
That will push their combined energy bills through the €2,000 mark for the first time.
The increases will hit families in the pocket just as new water charges and a full-blown property tax are introduced.
But those using heating oil can look forward to the prospect of a drop in their energy bills, as prices continue to fall on world markets.
In contrast, Bord Gais has asked the Commission for Energy Regulation to approve an increase in gas prices, to hit households in the autumn.
The Irish Independent has learned that the increase in gas bills will be at least 10pc – costing the average family an extra €88 per year.
Industry sources also warned of a potential electricity price hike of about 5pc, which would add €56 to annual bills. And all homeowners will have to pay higher carbon taxes, and an extra payment of €13 under the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy on electricity.
The combined effects mean that many households struggling to cope with the recession are now paying €500 a year more for gas and electricity than they were at the height of the boom.
But the price of home heating oil is falling dramatically, and is now under €860 per 1,000 litres for the first time in almost a year.
If the trends continue as expected, then a price divide will open up between families using gas and those using oil as their prime heating source.
The bills could be hundreds of euro this winter.
The average family already spends €876 a year on gas and €1,116 on electricity.
A new Eurostat study showed Irish household-energy prices were already 4pc higher than the EU average.
The cool and wet summer will also do little to reduce household energy bills.
Ironically, the wholesale price of gas and electricity has fallen in the past month -- suggesting that tariffs should come down.
But Bord Gais said it bought gas supplies 18 months in advance and had to factor in other increased costs such as network charges and higher bank financing costs.
The Commission for Energy Regulation confirmed it was still expecting to approve a hike despite a drop in wholesale gas prices in recent weeks.
This is expected to be a 10pc increase to customers from the autumn, but it will be reviewed over the coming weeks before an announcement is made.
"The euro crisis also has to be factored in. If the euro continues to weaken, that obviously makes imported energy more expensive which is not good news," said the spokesman for the regulator, Andrew Ebrill.
Although only Bord Gais gas tariffs are still set by the regulator, other gas suppliers such as the ESB and Airtricity usually track these closely.
All electricity customers are also set to be hit with a €13 a year rise in the PSO levy, which the regulator is proposing to introduce in the autumn.
Aside from this levy, which helps support green energy, electricity prices are no longer regulated so it is a matter for individual companies to decide on those.
The ESB merely said it was keeping prices under review. But another industry source predicted that electricity prices would rise by up to 5pc.
There was better news for those who use home heating oil, as prices have been cut sharply in recent weeks to under €860 for 1,000 litres, according to daily price comparison website CheapestOil.ie
It is a much needed reprieve for consumers who saw the price rise above the €900 mark last winter -- but is still high, compared to prices of €500 just three years ago.
However, heating oil prices are expected to fall further, driven by a drop in global demand due to the economic crisis.
The Consumers Association of Ireland hit out at the overall rise in utility bills in recent years.
It said it was outrageous that families could be asked to spend over €2,000 a year on heating and powering their homes, at a time when incomes were on the floor and fuel allowances had been slashed.
"We would call on the Government to introduce a €100 cap on how much a household has to pay in tax for energy, or else we'll just see even more people being disconnected next winter," said CAI chairman Michael Kilcoyne.