A price war has broken out between electricity suppliers, meaning hard pressed families can save as much as €235 a year on their utility bills. - Christian McCashin
The cut-price power deals come after bin firm Panda entered the electricity market and offered its customers €50 off their rubbish collections and €185 off power bills.
However, its established rivals have quickly followed suit, offering electricity price cuts, cash-back deals of €50 to €100 and other extras to lure new customers to switch.
The fall in electricity costs, as the win: ter temperatures begin to bite, was last night hailed by consumer champions who urged the public to make the most of the offers now.
Dermott Jewell, of the Consumers' Association of Ireland, said: “It's long past time that we had some good competition in the energy area. It's terrific. It's important that consumers do avail of deals when they're good."
Yesterday, SSE Airtricity dropped its electricity prices by 2%, which it says will save customers €23 a year.
And Electric Ireland said it was cutting its gas prices by 2.5%, which it says will save customers an average of more than €20 a year. This follows a 2% cut in its electricity rates, saving average customers nearly €21 a year. Electric Ireland is also offering €65 off bills for those switching to the firm. Energia said it was marking Black Friday by offer. ing new customers who switch to it €50 off a bill next year.
Similarly Bord Gáis Energy is also making offers to tempt electricity customers, offering switchers €100 and 10% off electricity bills. Simon Moynihan, of price comparison website bonkers.ie, said the price falls came just as the country is heading into winter, traditionally a time of peak demand.
He said: ‘If the companies are Cutting prices they usually wait until the spring when demand is lower, so this is unusual."
The reduction in power bills is also due to the steep collapse in oil prices to around $45 a barrel. Two years agoit was above $110. Oil prices traditionally dictate electricity and gas bills.
Energy Minister Alex White had faced pressure from his Labour backbenchers over high bills earlier this year after TDs said power firms were failing to passion the reductions in wholesale energy costs.
Yesterday, he hailed the respite for consumers, saying: "The announcement of further energy price reductions from SSE Airtricity and Electric Ireland is a welcome development and an indication that competition is working for customers.
“It is hugely important that consumers shop around to ensure they get the best possible price and service deal and I would encourage them to do so. There are many value offers in the market from suppliers, including significant discounts.'
However, electricity bills remain higher than they were five years ago.
The standard annual bill in October 2010 was €990 but the same bill in October this year was €1,206 - although that is down from €1,236 last year, according to Commission for Energy Regulation figures.
Similarly the annual average gas bill was €727 in October 2010. Bills have now dropped to €944 from their peak of €993 in April last year.
But consumers can push their costs down if they avail of growing competition in the market as firms try to outbid each other for new custom.
For customers who take both electricity and gas, Energia is offering €50 worth of boiler insurance. SSE Airtricity is giving a free boiler service worth €79-and Bord Gáis Energy has a sign-up deal of €100 credit plus 1,000 Tesco Clubcard points worth €20.
People with a gas-only deal with Energia are being offered €50 worth of boiler insurance and Bord Gáis is offering a free boiler service worth €99.
The latest price war was sparked by market newcomer da Power which vowed to be the cheapest electricity supplier when it launched in June. Two rival energy firms immediately undercut Panda's rates.
Mr Moynihan of Bonkers.ie said: "The Panda Power deal is not bad. They launched with the cheapest tariff in the marketplace back in the summer but a few things have happened since then, others reduced their prices and undercut them almost right away.
“So Panda's deal is a perfectly good deal. You need to be a bin customer but it's good to see that there are other added value that suppliers are offering," he said.
Panda Power boss Brendan Traynor also championed his of his firm's €235 savings deal.
He said: “Christmas is an expensive time of year for everybody, so our new offer is about putting something back into the pockets of our valued waste customers in the build-up to Christmas." However, one of his rivals for customers, Energia's Geoff Codd said of his firm's deal: “We’re delighted to be heating things up for householders by offering them this great new home energy offer."
Electric Ireland boss Jim Dollard said: "We are particularly happy to be able to reduce gas prices ahead of January as it's the month our customers use the most gas in their homes. This follows last month's electricity price reduction."
Airtricity boss Stephen Wheeler said: “We are saving our customers almost €50 on average in their annual electricity costs compared with this time last year."