Centrica wins race for Enron's UK electricity supply business

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Centrica last night won the contest to take over the UK retail electricity supply business of the collapsed US energy trading giant Enron.

The British Gas to AA breakdown services group is paying £96.4m to buy Enron Direct from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the administrators of Enron Europe. The deal offers a lifeline to the 219 staff at the Oxford-based business.

"The acquisition is a key part of our growth plans and brings additional experience. We will be talking to our new employees as soon as possible," a Centrica spokesman said.

Centrica beat off competition from several other utilities to acquire the business. Innogy, the owner of the npower brand, Electricité de France, Germany's RWE and TXU, the owner of Eastern Electricity, were all thought to have been interested in Enron Direct.

Enron has 160,000 commercial and industrial customers – 148,000 taking electricity and 12,000 buying gas. It also supplies a further 37,000 residential customers through other service providers. Revenues in the first 10 months this year were £190m. Mike Alexander, managing director of British Gas Trading, said the takeover would double Centrica's commercial energy customers, bringing it closer to its target of becoming the number one supplier in that market.

Centrica has paid £197 per customer which compares reasonably well with other recent takeovers of electricity supply businesses. Mr Alexander said the average annual bills of Enron Direct customers was approximately £1,300 – more than five times the average domestic bill. "This is an important acquisition in view of our aspirations in the small and medium enterprise market," he said.

Enron's administrators are also hopeful of finding a buyer for its metals trading business. Last week PwC made 1,100 Enron employees in London redundant and the US parent company has cut 4,000 jobs at its Houston headquarters.

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