Concerns | 

Government expects 'shock' of huge energy bills to frighten families into curbing energy use

There are growing concerns among Coalition figures of the possibility of mass non-compliance akin to what happened with water charges nearly a decade ago

Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Hugh O’Connell, Allison Bray and Gabija

Every household in the country will be expected to curb their energy use this winter as the Government prepares a plan to avoid blackouts.

Ministers believe record utility bills will have a “shock and awe” effect on families, leading them to voluntarily reduce their usage.

A massive campaign is now being planned to inform consumers on the best ways to cut back on their electricity usage in the months ahead.

Government sources said “fear and anger” could take hold once the first bills of the autumn/winter seasons start to arrive.

A major package of financial supports, which will benefit all households, is being planned ahead of Budget Day on September 27.

The Cabinet will today sign off on a plan to advise public sector bodies to set their heating systems to 19 degrees where appropriate in an effort to conserve energy and reduce costs this winter.

But there are growing concerns among senior Coalition figures that people will be unable to pay their energy bills, with some acknowledging the possibility of mass non-compliance akin to what happened with water charges nearly a decade ago.

“That’s happening all over the EU,” the government figure said.

However they, and other insiders, cautioned that this has not yet arisen in Ireland and said the main concern was whether households would be able to pay their bills, not whether they would refuse to do so.

A public information campaign to be launched within weeks advising households to “reduce your use” is to form part of the Coalition’s response to the energy crisis.

Households will be advised to turn down their heating, not to heat empty rooms, and avoid using washing machines, dryers, cookers and other household appliances during peak hours (between 4pm and 7pm).

A “reduce your use” campaign was run in the spring in which people were also asked to drive at lower speeds to reduce fuel use, avoid using the car for short journeys, and consider walking, cycling or using public transport.

The Department of Environment said last night “analysis and measurement of the broader impacts of the campaign” was ongoing amid suggestions from some in Government that it had not been effective.

Sources said the campaign would be run again with “renewed emphasis” this autumn.

The Cabinet will today sign off on measures to reduce energy consumption in the public sector in the coming months.

The Irish Independent understands that the guideline temperature would be 19C as appropriate to each building use, with a government source cautioning that this would not necessarily be the same for all buildings.

The memo going before ministers outlines how the public sector will be expected to lead by example on energy efficiency in the coming months, with a number of measures proposed. These include reducing heating of low-occupancy spaces, optimising timers and thermostats, and reducing use in peak times.

It is also likely to propose that lights are switched off where appropriate at night inside and outside public buildings.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Timelast night, Climate Minister Eamon Ryan admitted that the energy situation will be “very tight” this winter.

Referring to the possibility of blackouts, he said: “We’re doing everything we can to avoid that eventuality.”

However he said this will “depend on a number of different variables” – including how cold the weather is, how much wind blows for wind-generated electricity, and the performance of older, fossil fuel power plants.

“Demand management is one of the best ways of managing our way through this,” he added.

The three Coalition party leaders and ministers Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath met last night to discuss the energy and security situation caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

They also briefly discussed the upcoming EU energy ministers’ gathering on Friday where energy price caps and windfall tax measures are on the agenda.

Meanwhile, speaking in Offaly yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “substantial supports” will be announced in the coming weeks to help people pay rising energy bills.

He said pandemic-like supports will be needed to help families pay spiralling bills this winter, as well as supports for the day-to-day running of schools. He denied the Government was putting responsibility on households to foot high bills and said energy usage must be reduced.

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