ONE of the country's leading independent power generators, Viridian, plans to enter the domestic electricity market, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The company, owned by Bahrain-based private equity house Arcapita, has decided to start selling power to domestic users through its Energia supply arm.

Industry sources said Viridian's management still had reservations about the high cost of entering the market but that they had committed in principle to the move.

The company already has extensive experience of selling power to domestic customers in the North, where its NIE subsidiary remains the largest player.

The revelation comes just days after Energia's managing director, Tom Gillen, told an energy industry gathering in Dublin that he believed there would be several new entrants to the market this year. The prospect of new arrivals in the market is likely to heighten pressure on the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) to stop controlling the prices charged by the ESB.

Although the former state monopoly remains the dominant player in domestic electricity, it has lost around 10% of its customer base over the past five months after Bord Gáis and Airtricity entered the market.

Neither company is subject to CER price controls and have been undercutting ESB's rates by over 10% in a bid to recruit customers.

Despite the low profit margins available, signing up domestic customers could be a useful source of cash for Viridian's owner Arcapita, which experienced liquidity problems towards the end of last year.

Earlier this month, its credit rating was downgraded for the third time because of its "high leverage in the context of a very difficult economic and investment climate".