UPDATE 1-Ireland rejects bids in flagship privatisation of gas firm

Wed Nov 27, 2013 5:55am EST

DUBLIN Nov 27 (Reuters) - Ireland has failed to secure acceptable bids for its flagship privatisation, the sale of the retail unit of its gas utility Bord Gais, raising doubts about its ability to hit a 3 billion euro ($4.07 billion) asset sale target under its EU-IMF bailout.

Despite significant interest, "none of the final bids received for (Bord Gais') energy business were at an acceptable value," Ireland's energy ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

The government will review options for Bord Gais Energy, the statement added.

Dublin last year raised its target for the sale of state assets from 2 billion euros after reaching an agreement with its bailout lenders to use some of the proceeds to invest in the economy as well as pay down debt.

The government has since withdrawn plans to sell its 25 percent stake in Aer Lingus and state forestry firm Coillte.

It secured 400 million euros though the sale of a lottery licence last month and is looking for a further 400 million from the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) which sold the first of its non strategic assets put on the block last week.

Sources said the government hoped to secure up to half of its 3 billion target through the sale of Bord Gais Energy.

The Irish Times reported that the government received bids from Britain's Centrica, U.S. investment fund Blackstone and Northern Ireland energy firm Viridian for the Bord Gais unit.

The energy ministry refused to name the bidders. Blackstone declined comment while Viridian and Centrica did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bord Gais Energy handles marketing, call-centres, billing, and appliance servicing to over 600,000 gas customers and 300,000 electricity customers, and also has a stock of assets, particularly focussed in the renewable sector.

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