Bord Gais made a pre-tax profit of €103m for the year ending December 2003, down 9% due to its capital expenditure programme but still ahead of expectations.

Turnover increased 7% to €701m, while its customer base grew by 9% to 454,646. It paid a dividend of €10m to the Exchequer last year.

During 2003 Bord Gais fully integrated its new pipelines - the pipeline to the west and Interconnector 2 - into the main network, while it also expanded into Northern Ireland.

Bord Gais said its €1.4 billion infrastructure investment programme is now substantially complete with key projects completed to time and budget.

'Overall performance exceeded expectations,' commented Bord Gais Chairman Ed O'Connell. 'The actual reduction in profit before tax was lower than anticipated as a result of a strong performance by our energy supply unit on the back of continued growth in new housing together with restructuring of company debt at favourable terms,' he added.

Bord Gais invested in new systems and procedures last year, ahead of full market opening in 2005.

'With over 85% of the natural gas market, by volume, already open to competition, Bord Gais' diversification strategy into the emerging competitive market for electricity supply is now well underway, with a 17% market share realised in 2003,' O'Connell said.

'Bord Gais' key focus is on managing and adapting to the significant changes in our current gas business,' commented Gerry Walsh, Bord Gais CEO.

'Bord Gais has a strong track record of proven sustainable increases in shareholder value and is well positioned to compete in an openly competitive energy market,' he added.

Natural gas prices in Ireland are the third lowest in the EU, while residential gas prices are 28% below the EU average. Gas prices to SMEs are also 10% below the EU average, Bord Gais said.