NI Energy Minister: “I have received assurances from ESB on a range of issues relating to the transaction.”

The BBC reports that the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, wearing his other hat as leader of the DUP, and out-going UUP leader Reg Empey have jointly written to the Irish government to object to the proposed sale of NI Electricity (NIE) to the state-owned Electricity Supply Board (ESB).  NIE is currently owned, through Viridian, by Arcapita, a Bahrain-based bank.

A RTÉ report adds

It has emerged that Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and outgoing UUP leader Reg Empey have written to Mr Cowen, claiming that the deal has major political implications.

They described the plan as ‘inappropriate’ and said it amounted to the purchase of a ‘key component’ of Northern Ireland’s national infrastructure.

They also said there would have been ‘political outcry’ had the Northern Ireland Executive or the UK government sought to acquire the Irish electricity grid.

Which is probably true…  But as the BBC report also notes

However, the SDLP’s Alban Maginness, who chairs the Assembly’s enterprise committee, explained: “What is being sold off is the grid and we need a tremedous amount of investment in the grid.

“ESB are prepared to put that investment in.”

He added that that although the Electricity Supply Board is owned by the Irish government, it remained independent of it.

In their statement at the time, July this year, Viridian noted

Completion of the transaction is subject to a number of conditions, including conditions relating to Irish and UK competition clearances and notifications and a refinancing of the existing indebtedness of the Viridian Group.  Subject to fulfilment of the conditions, the transaction is expected to complete by the end of 2010.

And this is what the NI Energy Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, said when the proposed sale was initially announced

The Minister said: “I am aware of the planned commercial transaction between the two companies. I have met with senior officials in NIE and ESB, and have also discussed the transaction with the Regulator and the Irish Minister Eamon Ryan TD.

“I have received assurances from ESB on a range of issues relating to the transaction. These include ESB investment plans, the importance of securing existing jobs, and maintaining the identity of the electricity network business in Northern Ireland. I will continue to keep a close watch as the transaction proceeds towards completion, to ensure the interests of electricity consumers in Northern Ireland are being properly considered.’’

The electricity transmission and distribution networks in Northern Ireland are owned and operated by NIE plc. NIE plc itself is part of the Viridian Group which is owned by the Bahrain-based investment bank, Arcapita. The planned transaction would see ESB, the network owner in the Republic of Ireland, becoming the owner of NIE.

Arlene Foster added: “Governments in both jurisdictions are committed to increasing the levels of renewable power generation.

“This will require significant grid strengthening, and I welcome assurances by ESB management of their strong commitment to fund and construct this important infrastructure in Northern Ireland, in addition to delivering on similar commitments in the Republic of Ireland.’’