Lampiris SA, a Belgian energy supplier, will gain as many as 100,000 French natural gas customers through a deal aimed at lowering heating bills.
French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir said today that Lampiris will supply gas to the consumers for 16 percent less than regulated gas rates as well as offering a 35-euro ($47) one-off rebate. Lampiris, based in Liege, is Belgium’s third-largest energy supplier.
“French consumers are getting a breath of air amid the current asphyxiation of regulated rates,” Alain Bazot, president of UFC-Que Choisir, said on a conference call. “This could go a long way toward stimulating competition.”
France’s household gas market is still dominated by former monopoly GDF Suez SA, which has about 9 million customers, an almost 90 percent share by number of clients. Alternative suppliers such as Direct Energie and Eni SpA, the biggest Italian energy company, have 12 percent of the household gas market by volume, according to regulator Commission de Regulation de l’Energie.
UFC-Que Choisir started a campaign last month to get consumers to sign up for a one-year supply contract awarded to Lampiris that it said today will save households an average of 190 euros a year.
More than 140,000 people came forward although a maximum of 100,000 will be offered the deal, Bazot said. Three-quarters of the applicants pay regulated rates offered by GDF Suez.
The deal would be the cheapest in France, according to a presentation by the consumer group, which showed Direct Energie’s online offer is 8 percent less than regulated rates while Eni is offering a 6 percent discount.
Eni is targeting more than 5 percent of France’s residential market, or 650,000 customers by the end of 2016. The country has been criticized by the European Commission for failing to do enough to open its energy markets to competition.
In response, the prior government forced Electricite de France SA to sell nuclear output to rivals. The current government says it will start competitive tenders for hydroelectric concessions.
Court decisions on French regulated gas rates ruled against state price-setting policies, with the highest court saying they have to cover utilities’ costs. In response, the government has allowed GDF Suez to rely more on spot-market supplies to try to lower costs for consumers.