E.ON takes on new energy customers as smaller rivals collapse

By Christoph Steitz, Tom Käckenhoff and Vera Eckert FRANKFURT (Reuters) - E.ON, Europe's No. 1 operator of energy networks, has recently absorbed hundreds of thousands of customers across the continent who ended up without a provider after record prices forced several smaller rivals to collapse, its CEO said. While this is just a tiny share given the group's 50 million customer base in Europe, it indicates how the current price spikes, caused by a mix of growing demand and higher fossil-fuel costs, have become a headache for energy retailers. "We have taken over several hundreds of thousands of customers in Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic," Chief Executive Leonhard Birnbaum told Reuters. "This is placing a great burden on us currently." Birnbaum said the unexpected inflow of customers was a problem because the group needed to procure energy for them at current market prices, which have eased in recent days but are still up nearly fourfold in some cases from last year. In Britain, where E.ON is the second-biggest retailer after Centrica's British Gas, more than 20 energy firms have exited the market since September, unable to cope with the price rise that they cannot fully pass on to customers....

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