We thank the committee for the opportunity to discuss some of the work under way in relation to the strategic priorities within our new strategic plan. I will start by outlining the current priority work we are undertaking to empower and protect consumers.
In light of exceptionally high and volatile wholesale EU gas prices, retail electricity and gas prices are increasing dramatically, thereby putting pressure on all domestic and business customers, many of whom are already struggling to pay. The CRU is deeply concerned about the impact these price increases will have on all customers and particularly on vulnerable customers. We therefore have introduced a new suite of consumer protection measures to be in place for this winter. The decision paper has been provided alongside this paper and in summary, the key measure include: extended debt repayment periods for customers in debt; lower debt repayment on top-ups for customers with financial hardship prepayment meters; customers on financial hardship meters to be put on the most favourable tariff available from their supplier; and extended moratorium periods for disconnections this winter.
We are currently working through the supplier of last resort process for Panda Power customers. There have been three supplier of last resort events in the Irish market this year, through which we have ensured that supply is maintained for some 100,000 affected customers.
The CRU has also just completed overseeing the implementation of the electricity credit scheme, along with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, ESB Networks and suppliers. We are ready to support any future interventions in line with Government decisions.
Some further workstreams to protect costumers include: working with industry to provide the negative public service obligation, PSO, levy to customers as quickly as possible; continuing customer communication campaigns to highlight the importance of registering as a vulnerable customer, to be aware of your rights as an energy customer and to make the best use of the better information and tariff options for customers with smart meters; continuing the roll-out of smart meters and leveraging the benefits of smart services; working with our customer care team to assist customers in distress, and engaging with our Department and other stakeholders to implement market and consumer protection measures arising from the evolving European Commission policy.
We will be stepping up market monitoring activities this winter, focusing on key customer debt and disconnection trends, and have included with this statement some of the latest data in this regard.
Turning to our next strategic priority to drive a low-carbon future, we are working to both increase the level of renewable electricity capacity on our system and to ensure we optimise the use of those renewables, as well as the infrastructure and technologies that support their roll-out, for the benefit of customers and the climate.
We welcome the increased connection of renewables, particularly solar projects, at scale this year, which will deliver significant benefits for consumers. This includes the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, contribution to the PSO levy rebate.
We are working to enhance the integration of these renewables through the publication of the single electricity market high-level design on system services future arrangements, with further work progressing on the detailed design. The new high-level design allows for a phased approach and enables EirGrid to procure system services in fixed contracts and a layered procurement approach. We welcome EirGrid's publication of its consultation on the low-carbon inertia competition.
One of the key enablers in achieving our 80% renewable electricity target is the delivery of offshore renewables at scale. The CRU is holding consultations on offshore grid connection policy, which will enable developers to bid confidently in the forthcoming offshore renewable electricity support scheme, ORESS, auction. A new CRU division will be established shortly to advance further work, including the regulatory framework for the offshore asset owner and operator and offshore network planning, standards and licensing.
We are concerned about the current gap in offshore safety regulation. International experience suggests that offshore renewables require regulation from a safety perspective. Ideally, a safety-by-design approach to the prevention of major accidents is required. Recognising the ambition in terms of scale and timing that Ireland has for offshore renewables, it is imperative the country implements an appropriate legislative framework in this area at the earliest opportunity, including designation of the body that will assume responsibility for this.
Firm access is an important area for existing and new renewable projects, and a consultation on a new approach will be published shortly. It is important to ensure this is facilitated by accelerated delivery of network infrastructure to provide value for consumers and generators. This is especially the case as ongoing curtailments and the operation of a tight system at a time of high wholesale prices is driving imperfections market charges significantly higher this year. Overall, lengthy planning and permitting processes and delays in delivery of critical energy infrastructure, including generation capacity, transmission and distribution networks, and the North-South interconnector, are adding high costs and increased security of supply risks for Irish consumers as well as delaying the achievement of our decarbonisation obligations.
As an example, Wind Energy Ireland advised us in March last that there were in excess of 1,200 MW worth of wind projects in the planning system, more than 500 MW of which had been in planning since 2020 or before. We were further advised at that time that in excess of 600 MW worth of battery storage was in the planning process. We will need this infrastructure to support security, sustainability and competitiveness for Irish customers.
It is clear that, given the scale of the infrastructure delivery required over the short term, we will need a change in the planning process and the resources allocated to local authorities and An Bord Pleanála to expedite projects through the planning process. We will also require the support of this committee and the Government to ensure delivery. For example, the North-South interconnector, which is vital for security of supply, has not yet commenced construction, despite having full planning permissions in place in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.
As we discussed electricity security at length with the committee on 30 August, I will briefly mention gas security in light of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. While Ireland is less dependent on Russian gas than other member states, it is important we play our part this winter and in the following winters by reducing our use of gas and electricity. The CRU is working on a range of such measures, including through our network tariff decision. Our objective to incentivise demand reduction at peak times and times of low renewable generation, which may also cause system stress, is aligned with the new EU proposals on emergency interventions to address high energy prices. Such measures will also support our decarbonisation goals.
As the EU moves away from reliance on Russian gas supplies and develops new supply sources, it is also critical that Ireland enhances our security of gas supply. This is particularly important given the key role of gas in electricity security of supply. We welcome the publication of the Department's energy security review in this regard.
In relation to the CRU's people and organisational capacity, we are currently recruiting to expand our team to address some of the new requirements of the climate action plan and clean energy package while prioritising the use of our resources for the energy crisis in the short term. The CRU notes that the committee has forwarded other topics for discussion and has included, as an appendix, the most recent and relevant historical data concerning domestic customers' debt and disconnections.
We are also happy to discuss the other topics highlighted by members, including demand management and the European response to demand reduction.