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Phoenix Gas wants a slice of the electricity market

Phoenix Supply has formally applied to the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation for a licence to supply electricity to homes and businesses in Northern Ireland.

Although this does not guarantee the company will go on to enter the market, a spokesman for the utility regulator confirmed a licence application from Phoenix had been received and the regulator would "apply the normal regulatory scrutiny" to the application.

The company is currently the second largest gas supplier on the island of Ireland and supplies to around 135,000 customers.

The electricity supply licence application by Phoenix Supply comes almost exactly six months after the Belfast Telegraph revealed Irish state-owned electricity provider ESB had applied for a gas supply licence.

Just over a week before this, it announced the completion of a long-anticipated €1.4bn takeover of Northern Ireland Electricity.

ESB now offers 'dual-fuel' packages of gas and electricity to homes and businesses across the island.

A Phoenix spokesman said it was too early to say how the firm would enter the electricity market, so no details are yet available on potential discount dual-fuel packages.

However, the company's managing director said applying for the licence was "the next logical step" in an island-wide growth strategy.

David Strahan said: "Phoenix Supply continues to invest and expand the service we offer to our natural gas customers.

"This has included the establishment and growth of Phoenix Energy to supply natural gas throughout the Republic of Ireland. This business has been very successful to date and has gained recognition by winning a number of awards for its rapid growth."

Terra Firma, the private equity firm which owns Phoenix, recently bought the Co Tyrone wind farm Slieve Divena.

The company released a statement at the time describing the potential purchase of further energy assets across the island as "a natural fit and an expansion opportunity".

The company is believed to be interested in acquiring the assets of Bord Gais, if the Irish state-owned gas provider is broken up and sold into the private sector.