So much missing of the point

In Norn Iron, the home energy market is pretty much closed. Electricity can come from one supplier, and mains gas can come from one supplier. To counter this monopoly, there has long been a fairly strong regulatory framework surrounding these two suppliers that put limits on how much their prices can rise. This is, probably, the best compromise that can happen just now; obviously a better one would be to bring in competition but that probably won’t happen for a while.

However, in bottled gas and home heating oil, there is considerable variation. Dozens of suppliers can be contacted and they’ll give you a price that will generally be quite competitive and will vary according to both the local market and the fluctuations in the international oil market. This means that it tends to match the oil price movements much more closely; rising when it rises and falling quite quickly when it falls. This is unlike the gas prices, which tend to rise more slowly and less steeply, but fall much more slowly.

It’s a good thing. But some people don’t get it.

The NI Consumer Council has called for the heating oil industry to be regulated as the price of 900 litres rose to £550.

John French from the council said regulating the industry should be a key priority for a new NI assembly.

“It is estimated that with rising fuel prices, the recent cold winters and the current economic climate, fuel poverty levels have risen above 50%,” he said.

Gas and electricity customers already benefit from a regulatory framework.

Mr French said that oil customers should too.

Fine, dude. You want to design a regulatory framework that can regulate dozens of firms and do it without costing a bomb. You design something that passes on the lows and mitigates the highs. And then please buy me a nice piece of beachfront property in Nevada.

The guy then ends on:

“Regulation of the home heating oil industry could provide consumers with transparency and reassurance that the price they are being asked to pay is fair,” he said.

Which annoys me; the home heating oil market is the only place I’ve seen where it is pretty transparent. Yes, the prices change daily, but with a single phone call a person can find out exactly how much 900 litres of oil will cost; try that in the beautifully regulated gas or electricity market.

In short: it works, don’t break it.

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