Bonuses for energy staff as gas cut-offs up five-fold
MORE than 60 staff at the state's energy watchdog shared €240,000 in bonuses last year.
And the chairman of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) Dermot Nolan has admitted that his €180,000 salary is very high and that there may be a case for cutting such salaries.
The revelations came as new figures show a spike in the number of gas customers being disconnected.
The commission said there had been a near five-fold increase in the number of gas customers being cut off between the first three months of 2011 and last summer – up from 519 to 2,373. Mr Nolan estimated that about 35pc of these were at vacant premises.
The number of electricity disconnections peaked at 5,000 in summer 2011, before falling back to 2,960 between April and June of last year.
But providing some respite for hard-pressed householders, Mr Nolan told the Dail Public Accounts Committee that he did not expect another rise in energy prices in April.
"I cannot rule out the possibility that certainly later in the year there may be an increase if gas prices continue to rise," Mr Nolan said.
"My best honest guess now is that there will be no change (as of April)," he said.
The ESB, Bord Gais and Airtricity have all raised their prices in the last year.
An ESB 6pc price increase came into effect in October, while Bord Gais was granted a 8.5pc price increase in September.
The company had initially requested a 7.4pc hike, but the CER said that during the consultation process it subsequently increased that request to 9pc.
Customers of Airtricity had bills increased by 4.7pc for gas, and 8.5pc for electricity.
Mr Nolan said that the average price of electricity stood at just over €1,000 a year for a household and €940 for gas. And he said the majority of people in arrears were struggling families.
Mr Nolan revealed that his salary was €180,000, and said he was conscious that it was very high.
"I'm speaking purely as a personal opinion, what the Government chooses to do about high earners in the public service is entirely up to it, and there may be a case," he said.
The CER chief added that just one of his staff who was eligible for performance-related payments in 2012 did not receive one.
He said staff at the CER were paid an average of €66,000 and shared in €240,000 worth of performance-related payments last year.
They also shared bonus payments of €220,000 in 2011. The payments are not given to commissioners or directors.
Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell said he believed bonuses were a "thing of the past".
"I find it hard to credit a bonus system in an organisation like your own," he said.
Chairman of the Commission for Communications Regulation Alex Chisholm, who also appeared before the committee, said that its staff also received performance-related payments.