POWER companies will be free to set their own prices for the first time from April 1, but consumers should not bank on a decrease in charges.
And while the cost of power is expected to eventually fall because of an increase in competition, the move is unlikely to lead to a price war in the short term.
This is because a number of suppliers, including Bord Gais and Airtricity, are already running promotions with heavy discounts, while the ESB has said it will not "make promises" about cheaper power bills.
The price of electricity has fallen by more than 12pc in the past year, and prices are now below the EU average.
The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) said yesterday that deregulation was likely to take place on April 1, meaning that all operators in the market -- the ESB, Airtricity, Bord Gais and others -- will then be free to set their own prices.
There are just over two million domestic electricity customers, of which 60.41pc -- or 1,220,282 -- are ESB customers.
For deregulation to happen, the ESB is not allowed to have more than 60pc of the market, meaning just over 8,000 have to switch to other suppliers.
In a review of the market published yesterday, the CER said it would have to agree a rebranding strategy with the ESB before deregulation was completed.
"ESB has taken actions as part of its commitment to rebrand with the public announcement of a new name, 'Electric Ireland', for its energy supply business.
"Further steps and milestones remain to be completed prior to deregulation taking place," it said.
Airtricity and Bord Gais already offer at least 10pc off ESB prices for new customers, with extra discounts for customers who also buy gas.
The ESB said rebranding of its domestic business could cost up to €8m, and that it would not engage in a price war.
"People need to remember that deregulation means we have dipped below 60pc in the market.
"We are expected to retain and not go over that 60pc mark in the short term," a spokesman said.
"Electric Ireland is the new brand name, and there's agreement (with the CER) around introducing a dual brand, going fully to Electric Ireland in 2012.
"We plan to start introducing it into bills between now and April," he added.
The company refused to be drawn on prices it would offer customers.