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firmus energy retains Top 100 Ulster Business Accolade

Having retained the accolade as one of Northern Irelands Top 100 Companies, firmus energy newly appointed chief executive officer Niall Martindale addresses challenges in the energy sector over the past year

The energy sector has rarely been out of the media spotlight over the past 12 months with ongoing increases in the global wholesale cost of natural gas caused by the war in Ukraine and world economies resettling after the Covid pandemic.

These factors, along with others, have undoubtedly created a more uncomfortable business environment for firmus energy who have recently retained the accolade as one of Northern Irelands Top 100 companies.

That hasn’t stopped the company forging ahead with its strategic plans to connect people to its network to deliver on the government’s new energy strategy according to its new chief executive, Niall Martingale.

Niall, a seasoned director in the regulated energy sector and firmus energy’s director of regulation and pricing since 2015, took over the reins of firmus energy in January this year. He is first to admit, that given the current challenges in the energy sector, his appointment has been quite the baptism of fire.

“During 2021 we have witnessed a steady and relentless increase in gas commodity prices across global wholesale markets,” he said in his first print article since taking over at the helm.

“As global economies began to emerge from the pandemic, a range of factors supported rising prices, such as strong Asian LNG (liquefied natural gas) demand, low European gas storage, low European wind, and even hydropower issues in Brazil. From October 2021, these issues were exacerbated by Russia’s behaviour towards Ukraine, which were then compounded with their invasion in February, and led to some of the sharpest increases in wholesale gas prices we’ve seen.

“With great reluctance we have had to pass these commodity increases onto our customers through a number of tariff increases since our last stakeholder report. Over this same period of time, we have seen the collapse of almost 30 supply firms in GB and I take great pride in our ability to have navigated such commercially challenging times and most importantly keep our customers connected to natural gas.

“I am particularly aware of the challenges and impact of the current cost of living crisis on the communities we serve which is why we have worked so closely with the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland and Department for Communities to financially and administratively support the delivery of much needed assistance to customers throughout our network area. The company has continued to engage with political and community group representatives to explore ways in which we can help customers and communities feeling the impacts of the cost of living crisis.

“At a strategic level the company is engaged with the Utility Regulator on price control reviews for both our distribution business (GD23) and supply business (SPC23). These are important projects, during which the Utility Regulator assesses our business plans for the next six and four years respectively and determines allowances within which we must operate in pursuit of our ambitions. The Utility Regulator will publish its Final Determinations for GD23 and SPC23 in September 2022.

“In December 2021, the Department for the Economy published Northern Ireland’s new energy strategy. Having worked closely with industry peers and government representatives during the development of this new energy strategy, we are greatly encouraged and excited to see recognition for the important and continued role of our gas network as Northern Ireland transitions towards a net zero carbon future. Every home converting from home heating oil to natural gas has already reduced its carbon emissions by up to 52%. Carbon emissions will fall exponentially with the introduction of renewable gases being injected, locally, into our network.

“The potential for renewable gas to be injected locally into our network is huge. firmus energy is committed to a sustainable future and supporting a local circular economy. Our sustainability team is pioneering several renewable energy initiatives which will progress the introduction of ‘green’ gases into our network, including projects to blend green hydrogen into the gas network and upgrade anaerobic digestion plants so that biogases generated can be converted into biomethane making our agri-food, power, heat, and transport sectors more sustainable.

“The availability of biomethane produced from anaerobic digestion in Northern Ireland is set to replace the natural gas in our network and without any downstream changes required to our customer’s heating systems’ or appliances. We are also part of a working group along with Action Renewables and other gas network operators.

“Furthermore, our modern polyethylene network can already facilitate a blending of up to 20% hydrogen, again, without any downstream changes required to heating systems or appliances.

“We are pleased to be working with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council on the potential for developing a hydrogen gas network in Ballymena to support the growing hydrogen economy, centred around local businesses like Translink, NI Water and Wrightbus.

“Thanks to funding from the Belfast Region City Deal this will include an i4C Innovation and Cleantech Centre to progress the local skills and knowledge base with respect to hydrogen, further supporting growth of the ‘green economy’.

“We are embarking upon particularly exciting times within the energy sector. I am anticipating and preparing for rapid changes in the very near term and firmus energy will be at the forefront of this charge. Our new strapline reflects our corporate intent to support Northern Ireland’s transition to net zero and recognises the significant contribution to be made by the gas networks in achieving our shared ambitions.

“Firmus energy’s business is underpinned by our values and we take great pride in the culture at firmus energy. While navigating our recent challenges we have continued to demonstrate our commitment to corporate responsibility and exceptional customer service.

“In the past year firmus energy has been reaccredited CORE Silver by Business in the Community and shortlisted for Business in the Community’s Responsible Business of the Year award 2022. We have also been undertaking specialised training for our customer facing teams, including dementia training, autism training and refreshing our JAM Card (Just A Minute Card) awareness training with the NOW Group. Later in 2022 we will be undertaking reaccreditation of our Gold status for Investors in People.

“Despite the lingering challenges of Covid-19, 2021 saw our distribution business deliver the greatest length of mains pipeline ever laid and the highest number of customers connecting to our network in a single year. We are strongly positioned to continue to deliver the benefits of natural gas, and soon renewable gas, to our customers throughout Northern Ireland.

“I am tremendously proud of how the team at firmus energy has stepped up to the significant challenges of the last number of years, demonstrating remarkable resilience and commitment to the continued growth and success of our business and a dedication to ensuring we deliver the highest levels of service to our customers. More than ever, our company values have been cornerstones of strength in how we conduct our business, with empathy, clarity, integrity and teamwork.


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