Tuesday 12 December 2017

Regulator has spent €1m on consultants in under two years

THE state's energy watchdog has already spent more than €1m on consultants to advise on its approach to Irish Water.

Earlier this week, the Herald revealed that the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) is seeking yet more consultancy advice at an estimated cost of almost €900,000.

The agency has since confirmed it spent just over €1m in a two-year period on consultants including economists and legal experts for advice regarding its water regulation function.

A sum of €297,000 was spent in 2013, while the CER's consultancy costs jumped to €751,000 last year.

Meanwhile, the CER is not ruling out hiring more help to deal with the regulation of Irish Water.

"The CER may hire consultancy support to provide advice regarding the development of Irish Water's connection policy and non-domestic tariff framework," a spokesperson told the Herald.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment last night said the issue of CER consultancy costs was not a matter for them.

"The procurement of services is a matter for the CER in the context of their role as the independent economic regulator of the water sector," a department spokesman said.

Irish Water, headed by John Tierney, also said the agency's consultancy spend is a matter for the CER and declined to comment.

The utility has previously come under fire for its own spend on outside consultants.

It emerged last year that Irish Water is forking out €86m in consultancy fees - almost half of its €180m set-up costs.

Former Environment Minister Phil Hogan fielded strong criticism relating to his supervision of the early days of the new body when the extent of the spending was revealed.

The CER consultancy spend revelations comes as customers face their first bills next month and anti-water charge protests continue.

Tens of thousands of protesters descended on the capital just last Saturday.

Separately, Irish Water is facing fresh controversy over concerns about lead contamination in drinking water in South Dublin homes.

A survey conducted on behalf of the utility by meter installers found that as many as 10pc of houses in the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area were connected to the mains by lead pipes.

Green Party councillor Ossian Smyth is calling on Irish Water to tell customers when installers find evidence that their water supply could be contaminated.

"They counted 1,500 directly but they have only installed in a small quantity of houses (15,000) in the county ," he told the Herald.

"This could affect up to 8,500 houses in the area."

Lead contamination is particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women, the politician pointed out.

Irish Water is currently working out how to deal with it.


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