Utility Regulator urged to address energy issues

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Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) chairman David Dobbin is calling on the Utility Regulator to urgently review the high cost of electricity to local food businesses

Mr Dobbin said local food businesses are currently paying 30% more for electricity than the rest of the UK and Ireland.

“This is severely reducing the competitiveness of our agri-food industry and its ability to export. Adding to the problem is the unreliability of the electricity supply network. The current grid is not fit for purpose with the result that many manufacturing companies are now coping with power cuts on a regular basis or can’t get the grid connections they need. The regulator must address these problems which are preventing new wind and anaerobic digester plants coming on line and hampering growth in the west of the province.

“In my own case at Dale Farm, we have experienced seven power outages this year at our main plant at Dunmanbridge, Cookstown with each outage costing us between £10,000 and £20,000 in downgrade cheese or milk powder being destroyed, due to processing being interrupted. Whereas consumers can receive compensation for power outages business customers can’t claim for incidents of this kind.

“Not only is our power supply unreliable we can’t get an increase in supply to allow us to increase our processing activity. As a result we are having to wait until we get natural gas so we can generate our own power.

“At present Dale Farm is paying over £1 millon more for its electricity in Northern Ireland than our GB plants are paying.”

The NIFDA chairman went on to confirm that the Dunmanbridge plant could save approximately £2 million per annum in heating costs and a further £1 million in generating its own electricity, if the facility had access to natural gas.

“Savings of this scale could allow us pay farmers 0.5 pence per litre more for the milk they supply us.”

But the NIFDA chairman also believes that weaknesses in the electricity grid and the unavailability of natural gas in the west is severely curtailing the expansion of many manufacturing businesses in the region.

“In our own case our growth is being severely constrained due to the unavailability and high cost of our current energy supplies. Natural gas in the west would be a big step forward. Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has already obtained over £30 million of Executive support for the extension of the natural gas pipeline grid into the west.

“It’s now up to the Utility Regulator and her team to get on with the job of allowing this to happen, and the sooner the better.”