Belfast Telegraph

Power NI loses thousands of customers as rivalry grows

By Margaret Canning

Power NI's domestic customer numbers have fallen by 9,000 in recent months, as competition starts to grow in the Northern Ireland electricity supply market.

The figures emerged as the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today holds a public evidence session, featuring the Utility Regulator and the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) as part of its probe into the electricity sector in Northern Ireland.

Financial statements for the second quarter of this year from Viridian show that Power NI was supplying 5o1,000 homes in the three months to the end of June - down 1.8% from 510,000 the quarter before.

And non-residential customers were down 3%, from 35,000 to 34,000.

Year-on-year, domestic customers were down 6.5% from 536,000, while non-residential customers were down from 8% 37,000.

Neither Power NI nor the Regulator wished to comment - but it's understood the fall in customer numbers is seen as an inevitable side-effect of the market opening up to more competition.

Another three challengers - Click Energy, Electric Ireland and Open Electric - have joined the market in the last 12 months months, supplying electricity to the domestic market and joining Budget Energy, Power NI and SSE Airtricity.

John French, chief executive of the Consumer Council, said: "Electricity switching levels within the domestic market in Northern Ireland have been increasing, with over 7.7% of consumers switching between January and June this year.

"We urge all consumers to shop around to get the best possible price and service."

Mr French added: "We have lots of resources to help, including our online electricity price comparison tool, to our step by step guide to the switching process."

Viridian also reported a fall in revenue of nearly 11.5% to £286m in its most recent results.

Operating profit was down 7% from £23.8m to £22.1m in the three months to June this year.

And at Power NI, operating profit was £6.6m - down slightly from £6.7m a year earlier.

Viridian's sale by former owners Arcapita in Bahrain to I Squared Capital was finalised at the end of April.

As well as owning Northern Ireland's biggest supplier Power NI, the company also owns Energia in the Republic, and operates the Huntstown power plants in Dublin.

It blamed the fall in revenue in the three months to the end of June on lower commodity prices, lower customer prices and lower availability at the Huntstown plant, made up of two combined-cycle gas turbine plants.

According to its results, the company has a growing renewable energy portfolio, including a 21 mega-watt farm it acquired at Rathsherry in July.

Energia has also entered the business market in Northern Ireland, but is a dominant supplier in residential markets in the Republic.

Belfast Telegraph