ESB may acquire power network

THE ESB is in exclusive talks to buy the power network owned by the Viridian Group in Northern Ireland.

While the ESB has refused to comment on the potential €1.4 billion (£1.2bn) offer Viridian confirmed yesterday in a statement it was in exclusive talks over the sale of its subsidiary, Northern Ireland Electricity.

The talks “may or may not lead to a transaction,” the Belfast-based group said.

The ESB could shell out as much as €1.4bn for the network, the Sunday Times reported, over the weekend.

The ESB was not available for comment following yesterday’s confirmation of the talks between the two parties.

Viridian’s owner Arcapita Bank, a Bahrain venture capital group, has secured Greenhill & Co Inc to advise on the talks. The network delivers power to over 800,000 customers.

The group also owns the Irish energy supplier Energia and the Huntstown combined cycle gas turbine plant in north Dublin.

Viridian spokesman Alwyn Whitford declined to comment on how much the deal wold be worth eventually to the group in the event of a sale, Bloomberg said.

It has been reported the ESB has already made an “indicative offer” for the business.

NIE is the most valuable and the largest part of Viridian’s business. The group was bought off the stockmarket in 2006 by the Bahrain company Arcapita for £1.6bn. That deal was funded by high borrowings and since then Arcapita tried to sell its Huntstown plan without success to help reduce its debts.

The Bahrain venture capital group has €3bn in assets under investment and reported major losses in the region of €191m in the second half of last year.

The ESB is expected to fund the deal with €400m of its own resources and to borrow the rest.

As a state-owned group it will also require government clearance for the purchase to proceed.

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