ESB Group has reported an operating profit before exceptional items of €616m for 2020, a decrease of €66m on 2019 after a "challenging" operating environment brought about by the  Covid-19 pandemic. 

ESB said it is recommending a dividend of €81m for 2020, which brings the total amount it has paid to the Exchequer in the last 10 years to €1.2 billion.

The company said that electricity demand remained resilient during the year, with an overall year-on-year reduction of less than 1% in Ireland.

Increased residential demand offset falls in the business sector impacted by Covid-19, it added. 

During 2020, ESB invested €1.1 billion in critical electricity infrastructure, including renewable generation. 

ESB said that Covid-19 had a roughtly €15m negative impact on its operating profit, mainly due to an increased provision for bad debts.

The company said it recognises the essential role it plays in society and the profound impact of the Covid pandemic on its employees, customers and the wider community, adding that it remains focused on three priority areas. 

It said it aims to protect the health and wellbeing of customers and employees while maintaining essential electricity supply by ensuring that its generating stations, wind farms, electricity networks operations, customer service and support functions continue to operate throughout this pandemic. 

The company is also assisting customers experiencing financial difficulties by working with them to put in place workable and affordable payment solutions, where needed. 

This included suspending domestic and business disconnections, in addition to a €1m fund which saw 10,000 registered vulnerable customers receive €100 credit.

It is also supporting its partners to deliver services in the community by recognising the profound impact of Covid-19 on communities and stepping up its community support programme.

Pat Fenlon, the ESB's chief financial officer, said that despite the operational challenges brought about by Covid-19 in 2020, ESB delivered a resilient set of financial results with operating profit before exceptional items of €616m. 

"At ESB, our focus remains on maintaining the supply of electricity, while also helping our most vulnerable customers and the communities in which we proudly serve. ESB is well positioned to meet the ongoing challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to continue to deliver on our strategic ambition to lead the transition to reliable, affordable low-carbon energy for the benefit of all," Mr Fenlon added.