Business

Saturday 23 September 2017

ESB aims to be cheapest energy seller in Britain as it takes on UK 'Big Six'

Pat Fenlon, group finance director
Pat Fenlon, group finance director
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The ESB is billing itself as Britain's cheapest electricity and gas provider as it prepares to take on giant incumbents in the multibillion euro market there.

The State-owned company's new consumer business in Britain is called ESB Energy, and will fully launch in England, Scotland and Wales this autumn.

It had previously anticipated a soft launch of the business last month, and a full launch in October.

For now, it is allowing customers to pre-register their interest on the new ESB Energy website.

It's advertising prices for electricity and gas that are 5pc below what any other supplier is offering in their area to consumers who sign up.

But the fine print shows that the offer only applies to the first 300 customers as the company launches.

"We're building a customer-centric energy company from scratch and that means our focus is entirely on providing the best possible service to you," it tells prospective customers on its UK website.

The ESB has been busy hiring staff for its British venture, which it codenamed Project Arrow.

ESB said it is "currently in the process of fulfilling all regulatory requirements in advance of entering the GB energy market later in 2017".

Within recent months, executives from its Irish business have also taken up directorships at London-based ESB Energy.

They include Paul Stapleton, general manager at Electric Ireland; Padraig O'hIceadha, general manager of GB retail; Ken McKervey, ESB trading manager; Yvonne Burke, financial controller at Electric Ireland; and John Healy, also of the ESB's Irish arm.

The UK company had originally been called Lavender Energy Supply and its name was only changed to ESB Energy in May this year.

The UK energy market is dominated by the 'Big Six' suppliers, including Centrica, which owns Bord Gáis Energy in Ireland, and SSE, which owns Airtricity.

But there are 50 gas and electricity suppliers in the consumer market there, including many smaller operators.

ESB group finance director Pat Fenlon told the Irish Independent earlier this year that the company's foray into the UK retail business was "progressing well" and that the entry to the market there was important in developing a "generating, trading and supply business of scale across Ireland and the UK".

The ESB, whose retail arm here is called Electric Ireland, already has a UK presence, but only in transmission and electricity generation.

ESB opened a €600m-plus, 885-megawatt gas-fired power station at Carrington outside Manchester last September.

Last March, the company commenced a process seeking an equity partner to help build a huge 1,600 megawatt, €1bn power plant in Yorkshire. When the power plant is built it will rank among Britain's biggest.

Investment bank Nomura has been hired by the ESB to find a partner for the new gas-fired power station development, code-named Project Knight Rider.

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