Despite this, the company reported pre-tax profits of Euro 120 million in its 2010 Annual Report.

The energy company said they were operating in a difficult domestic environment and were further affected by the increase in wholesale prices.

Price hikes now seem on the cards for gas and electricity customers of up to 20%.

Bord Gáis Éireann Chief Executive, John Mullins, said: “Looking forward, international wholesale energy prices remain a concern and this will put increasing pressure on prices throughout 2011.

“Another key challenge facing the company this year is that Bord Gáis is the only regulated provider in the gas sector, and as such, faces considerable constraints in terms of its ability to compete on a level playing field. This needs to be addressed urgently.”

The company said that the issue of bad debt has reached a ‘critical’ level and that the phenomenom of ‘debt hopping’ has become widespread in the industry as customers leave unpaid debts with a supplier while moving to another.

It insisted that it was doing all it could to assist vulnerable customers who are struggling to pay energy bills.

The company has initiated measures including installing pay as you go meters and has donated over Euro 1 million to assist the elderly and low-income families.

While debt was an issue, the company said they had reached a key milestone in achieving an increase in customers to one million.

The company also commissioned the Whitegate Power Plan in County Cork, which is the company’s first major gas-fired power station.

Alison Brown

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie