The Utility Regulator has begun looking to launch a review of the body which runs the electricity system in Northern Ireland, SONI, to make sure it is “fit for purpose”.
DUP MLA Paul Frew welcomed the news, calling such a probe “right and proper”, and stressing the need for SONI to have “complete operational independence”.
SONI – which stands for System Operator Northern Ireland – is owned by EirGrid, the Republic’s state-owned electricity body, which is headquartered in Dublin.
Although SONI is not a household name, it is crucial for keeping the lights on and is funded by every householder as part of their electric bill.
In May, the News Letter’s Sam McBride revealed that 87% of SONI staff who responded to a survey were of the view its takeover by an Irish-government owned company has been bad for consumers in Northern Ireland (it has been part of EirGrid’s group since 2009).
The Utility Regulator said the review is “to ensure the company is, and will continue to be, fit for purpose in securing the protection of the interests of consumers and other stakeholders”.
It added: “At this stage, we are seeking views of all interested stakeholders ... Responses received will assist us in identifying whether there are any issues with SONI’s governance arrangements and (if so) in understanding what steps may be needed to address them.
“The responses to this call for evidence will help to shape our policy thinking and, in due course, may shape the content of a separate consultation.”
A statement on the SONI website said it has “delivered an efficient, competitive market for customers in Northern Ireland ... we note the call for evidence and will engage with the Utility Regulator in this process”.
Mr Frew said: “It’s right a proper review is carried out into SONI. Whilst it may be owned by EirGrid, there should be complete operational independence and it should be working only in the interests of Northern Ireland’s market and Northern Ireland consumers.
“There must be no question of Northern Ireland having the ability to design and implement our own energy policy ... Discussions including the need for a fully independent board of directors are also necessary and I hope this review will be exhaustive and deliver the changes that Northern Ireland needs.”
Representations to the regulator must be made by 5pm on September 10. Email Electricity_Networks_Responses@uregni.gov.uk