Monday 21 October 2019

ESB out to triple UK customers to 100,000

Energy firm shrugs off Brexit

Profit drop: ESB chief financial officer Pat Fenlon. Photo: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
Profit drop: ESB chief financial officer Pat Fenlon. Photo: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The ESB expects to almost triple its British retail customer numbers to as many as 100,000 by the end of this year, intensifying its battle for consumers there as its base in its home market continues to be eroded.

ESB chief financial officer Pat Fenlon told the Irish Independent that the group had 36,000 customers in Britain at the end of 2018 following a tentative launch into the market in late 2017.

He said that Brexit and a UK government-imposed price cap on energy costs for consumers don't alter the ESB's longer term view of the market there as being attractive.

"We are building up gradually," said Mr Fenlon of the ESB's British consumer arm. "We are in a position to temper or accelerate the growth depending on demand. We'll be keeping a close eye on how events unfold in the UK."

Mr Fenlon said that the current British customer base had been secured with a "competitive price offering".

The ESB also has a sizeable power generation business in Britain and owns Northern Ireland Electricity Networks. It also has 86,000 residential customers in Northern Ireland through its Electric Ireland division.

Mr Fenlon was speaking as semi-State ESB published results yesterday that showed its operating profit fell almost 8pc to €455m last year, while it shouldered €140m in non-cash impairments as it wrote down the value of power stations including a gas-fired asset at Dublin Port.

The executive also said that a planned joint venture announced last month with semi-State forestry company Coillte could earmark between €1.5bn and €2bn to develop the 1,000MW of wind farms that it has targeted.

"If all the projects took off, you could be looking at €2bn of investments," he said. "It depends on different sites."

He also said that a number of options could be considered for the future of the ESB's coal-fired Moneypoint power plant in Co Clare - the country's biggest.

The station's three 305MW power units generate output equivalent to about 20pc of the electricity demand in the Republic of Ireland, but it must stop burning coal in 2025. A report on Moneypoint future is due to be delivered to government soon.

Mr Fenlon said a range of options are being evaluated, including how Moneypoint could fit into LNG terminal usage, or if it could accommodate a combined gas turbine cycle power plant, or biomass energy generation, for example.

Determining the future use is "quite complex", he said.

The ESB said that 2018 was a "challenging year", with its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation falling by €101m to €1.17bn. Its revenue rose 5.2pc to €3.43bn.

Operating profit at its Electric Ireland business tumbled by just over 20pc to €54m last year.

Irish Independent

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