Energy policy really matters
As Ireland thrashes around looking for light at the then of the recessionary tunnel, it strikes me that energy policy matters. It matters to businesses as they struggle to maintain jobs, or even to create employment. And it matters to embattled ordinary citizen trying to keep snug and fed at home.
Not so many years ago, the high cost of fuel and electricity was scarcely noticed in the intoxicating merry-go-round of the Celtic Tiger. Almost unnoticed, ESB, home heating, and gas bills rose unchecked. Now that we are all aboard 'SS Austerity', the result is a serious hole in the hull which threatens to drag us down to the bottom.
It is obvious that, when you are manufacturing on an island like Ireland and dependent on exports, transport is a major factor in the overhead of any business in this country. The energy prices which affect manufacturers, hauliers and householders have been maintained at Tiger levels.
Despite falls in the price of a barrel of crude, we have not seen any decreases from our national electricity or gas suppliers. Even though they are now enjoying the decreased cost of oil and exchange rates, they are reluctant to pass on saving to their customers.
We are still paying €0.87/litre for 1000 litres or €0.89/litre for 500 litres - for those who can still invest in that amount of oil. People suffering from austerity and wage cuts, loss of employment are buying maybe 250 litres at top rates. I even know many cases where families are buying five gallon drums (22 litres) just to keep going.
From the business perspective, the Government needs to adjust the duty that they are adding to fuel and energy. To repeat, an island nation depends on exports and those exports are a major plank in our economy today. We need to keep competitive in production costs as well as well as transport.
We need a watchdog to keep control of the energy suppliers to ensure that downward movements in cost are passed on to consumers - both business and domestic.
We need now to take a lead from the USA and take advantage of natural resources. If there is shale gas and oil in Ireland or in the seas around, then we need to use them. In the States fuel prices fuel prices are substantially less than here.
We do right to worry about the greenhouse effect of burning carbon rich fuels. But our leaders are already promoting alternative wind and sea energy where huge advances are already being made. I am all for the green lobby when they campaign for electric cars. The successful Dublin bike rental scheme could be extended too.
As a volunteer with St Vincent de Paul, I see the daily hardships that are caused by huge electricity bills while the cost of coal has jumped. Most of the semi-detached houses and apartments that were built in the last dozen years only have oil central heating. If by chance they have a fireplace, it probably does not have a back boiler.
In the SVP, we now know of numerous cases where families cannot heat the house in the winter because of the exorbitant price of home heating oil. People cannot afford cars any longer any longer and in this lovely weather a day out to the seaside is out of the question. The cost of bringing a family on a 30 mile round trip, given the ancillary costs of ice-creams, minerals is out of reach. As for a trip to Croke Park which is, granted, rare for Wexford folk barring followers of our camogie team - that is real no no for many.
The bottom line and in very simple business terms is that lower fuel and energy costs can a have a major effect in the growth of companies, making them more competitiveness thus increasing much needed employment.
From a domestic point of view, if people are paying less for electricity, heating and fuel, then there will be a lot more disposable income to support the main retail outlets in our deserted high streets. More leisure activities will also be put within reach. As the song goes, money makes the world go round.
From an SVP perspective, lower energy costs would mean that the society could reduce our annual budget for fuel assistance, currently in excess of €10 million. This would mean being able to put extra funding towards assisting people who have now found themselves in financial difficulties with banks and other creditors.
Such families are new to a new type of poverty never seen before and are very slow and even embarrassed to seek assistance and advice. We in SVP want to get the message out to these families that we are there ready to stand by them and support them in getting professional financial advice.