2 December 2002 – Centrica, the UK’s largest energy supplier, plans to expand into the Spanish electricity market early next year.

The company, which already operates in Belgium, is expected to announce this week that is has obtained a licence to supply electricity in Spain and has already become a member of the country’s power trading “pool”.

Centrica has been expected to accelerate its expansion across Europe following the agreement last week between EU energy ministers on the opening up of the gas and electricity markets between 2004 and 2007. Spain is an obvious next step for the company as the market has already been liberalised.

Spain has introduced the legal separation of supply and infrastructure, which Centrica sees as essential for competition to succeed and, like the UK, has an independent industry regulator. Centrica, which will initially target small and medium corporate customers, plans to open for business from January 1.

The UK company has been among the strongest critics of the slow pace of liberalisation in most of Europe’s energy industries. The agreement last week that the EU residential gas and electricity markets would open in 2007 was broadly welcomed, although the European Commission and the UK Government had favoured opening in 2005. Earlier this year ministers agreed that businesses in all EU countries would be able to choose their gas and electricity supplier from 2004. France and Germany were both seen as the major opponents to a more radical opening of the energy markets.