Since its 2008 market entry, SSE has helped to transform the energy market in Northern Ireland. It is the largest provider of wind power and has saved household energy consumers over £20 million so far.
On the night of Friday 4th September this year, thousands of music fans descended upon Belfast’s Queens Quay for the annual Tattoo as the country’s premier entertainment venue re-opened with a brand new look and a brand new name – The SSE Arena, Belfast.
Showtime that evening for the all-new SSE Arena marked the start of a ten-year partnership between SSE Airtricity, Northern Ireland’s second largest energy provider, and the Odyssey Trust. In the years ahead both partners will work together to create the most memorable entertainment, comedy and sporting experiences for Northern Ireland audiences at this world-class venue.
For SSE Airtricity customers it means more. It means access to a range of exclusive customer benefits including a dedicated lounge, up to 48 hour advance tickets and exciting competitions and promotions. And the response so far from customers and entertainment fans has been phenomenal, with almost 15,000 SSE Airtricity customers signing up for the company’s SSE Reward programme in the first week alone.
Since the deal was announced earlier in the summer, the naming rights sponsorship has been making waves of all the right kind across the country and beyond. But then making waves is what SSE has been doing in Northern Ireland since it first entered the energy market here in 2008.
In the period since, FTSE Top-50 listed SSE plc, the UK and Ireland’s broadest-based energy utility, has invested over half a billion pounds into Northern Ireland’s economy, transforming the energy market here and becoming the country’s second largest energy supplier with a 30% market share. In doing so, SSE Airtricity – SSE’s retail brand in Northern Ireland – has saved household energy consumers who have already made the switch to cheaper electricity over £20 million while retaining the company’s leadership position as the largest provider of wind power to homes and businesses here.
The company is continuing to invest — and not just in naming rights. In the last year alone, SSE Airtricity has announced the creation of over 100 new jobs at its new Belfast Contact Centre and Corporate HQ; it has continued to expand its burgeoning energy services business across the region; and it has unveiled plans to add to its existing wind farm portfolio with an exciting development pipeline of renewable energy projects already under construction or in planning.
“At the heart of everything we do at SSE Airtricity is our core purpose — to provide the energy people need in a reliable and sustainable way,” said Stephen Wheeler, Managing Director. “Since we entered the competitive domestic electricity market here in 2010 more than 175,000 customers have made the choice to switch their electricity supply to our company. When combined with our customers in Greater Belfast’s natural gas market, we’re now providing energy to over 300,000 homes and businesses here – around one third of the entire energy market in Northern Ireland.
“We’re proud that we are in a position to provide the energy our customers need to live and work. We understand the responsibilities that we carry to ensure that the energy we provide to our customers is as affordable as possible, that the service we deliver every day is something that we are proud of, and that we are playing our part to help create a cleaner, lower carbon economy for future generations by investing in the right greener energy projects. That’s why we are passionate about our continued expansion and growth for the long term in Northern Ireland.”
SSE Airtricity has been operating as an energy supplier in Northern Ireland since the commercial electricity market was first deregulated in 2002, as Stephen Wheeler explains.
“Our rate of customer growth at that time would be considered modest when compared to growth rates in a domestic energy market today. However, as modest as it was, over time we grew our commercial base to a scale where entry by SSE Airtricity into the domestic electricity market in June 2010 was not only justified but was the natural next step.
“For the first time ever, householders across the country had a choice of electricity provider as well as the opportunity to switch their provider and benefit from a range of new market-leading savings that began to make energy more affordable for customers.”
The consumer benefits that have resulted from SSE Airtricity’s domestic energy market entry have been tangible. SSE’s customers have realised electricity cost savings of around £20 million so far by switching. And the company is continuing to drive competition with market-leading electricity discounts and offers that could save individual households around £100 each just by switching. Apply that across the board in all of Northern Ireland’s over half a million homes and the country could switch and save a total of over £30 million*.
It’s not just in electricity that SSE Airtricity has brought greater focus on value and affordability. In its regulated natural gas business in the Greater Belfast network area, where the company is the market leader, SSE Airtricity has introduced far greater stability in natural gas pricing. Since SSE acquired Phoenix Supply in June 2012 the company has used its scale and expertise on wholesale GB gas markets to introduce much greater price stability into the natural gas market here. In the last year alone SSE has announced gas price reductions averaging 18 per cent off the back of a two year period from 2012 during which its customers enjoyed an effective gas price freeze, demonstrating how SSE has been able to pass on the benefits of its scale and expertise to help smooth the impact of price movements on customers’ bills.
Whether in electricity or gas, the savings delivered haven’t come at the cost of compromising on service. Customers who have switched on to SSE Airtricity have stayed for the company’s award-winning and innovative service – a point borne out in a recent Cornwall Energy report into the state of switching in the NI energy market which demonstrates that consumer satisfaction levels towards energy suppliers since competition remain extremely high with respect to customer service, trust in suppliers and flexibility of payment methods.
So, if the switching benefits in terms of savings and continued quality of service post-switching are so obvious for Northern Ireland consumers why do we still see such a high level of inertia in the domestic switching market?
Stephen Wheeler continues:
“That’s a very interesting question. Research from the Consumer Council has highlighted that switching levels in Northern Ireland have remained low in comparison to the rest of the UK and Ireland. We believe that every participant in the NI energy market has a responsibility to play a part in stimulating enhanced competition for the benefit of the consumer.
“For our part, as the company that has driven the switching market in Northern Ireland, we are constantly challenging ourselves to be bolder and more innovative in the products and services we offer to consumers. We want to give customers the products they want, in a way that ensures consumers are well-informed at the time of purchase with clear and easily-understood information.
“And most importantly we want to offer customers more. We believe in rewarding our customers, not just through great value and proven savings in their energy supply but also with rewarding experiences. Our sponsorship of the SSE Arena, is a real demonstration of how we do more for the benefit of our consumers. I believe by offering great value and great rewards to customers in these ways that we can really stimulate greater competition in the energy supply market here.”
Of course SSE’s investment in its Northern Ireland energy business all begins with the wind that blows across our land. Before the company had an energy supply business, it was first and foremost a renewable energy developer. That heritage remains very much at the heart of the company’s generation development focus in NI and sits comfortably within the wider development objectives of SSE across the UK and Ireland.
As the largest single generator of electricity from renewable sources in these islands, SSE is committed to progressively reducing the CO2 intensity of its diverse generation fleet as well as creating a cleaner, lower carbon economy for future generations.
SSE remains ready to invest in renewable generation in Northern Ireland, and is committed to playing its part in helping to meet the targets set by the Northern Ireland Executive to generate 40 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
This dual commitment to reduce the carbon intensity of its generation fleet and to help meet 2020 targets is reflected in the investment decisions that it is making here in Northern Ireland and in its development pipeline. Within two years, SSE will add another 40MW of wind power generation to its operational portfolio. It is currently constructing the 32MW Tievenameenta Wind Farm in Co. Tyrone, due to be commissioned in 2017, and has planning consent for a 9MW extension to its Slieve Kirk Wind Park in Co. Derry-Londonderry which it expects will bring the total installed capacity at the site to 83MW in the same year.
Building on this construction pipeline, SSE has plans for a £150million wind park at Doraville in the Sperrins, a planning application for which has been submitted to the Department of the Environment. The proposed 36 turbine Doraville Wind Park could generate 115MW of green electricity and would be the country’s largest wind park, with the potential to power around 100,000 homes across NI.
As a responsible developer SSE has always been focused on selecting the right renewable energy projects that not only deliver on the company’s generation objectives but that also deliver an economic and social dividend return to the communities in which each of its projects are located.
The company believes wind farm developments should act as key drivers for the local economy and it works hard to ensure those benefits are delivered to the local community and local economy. An independent study by BiGGAR Economics for SSE estimates that its Doraville project can inject £50 million into Northern Ireland’s supply chain businesses during development and construction. Around £16 million of that investment can be poured directly into the local council area. Once operational, the wind park can generate further revenues for the region over its 25 year lifetime of over £60 million as well as community benefit funding over the same period of a further £15 million.
This level of social and economic dividend is borne out by SSE’s track record through the delivery of its Slieve Kirk Wind Park. During the construction phase SSE spent a total of £36 million directly with 75 local supply chain
businesses, supporting community jobs and enterprise.
With the site now operational Slieve Kirk is generating more than power – it is fueling an economic return for the North West. Over its 25 year lifetime SSE will pay out another £18.5 million locally in commercial rates, landowner leases, and community and regional funding. Indeed in the last two years, Slieve Kirk has contributed over half a million pounds in funding, directly supporting community energy efficiency projects as well as local families sending students on to third level education.
“This is a social investment and community support model that we’re proud to champion at SSE,” Stephen Wheeler says. “We have demonstrated our commitment to local communities from the development of our very first wind farm here in Northern Ireland, and we’ll continue to do so with all future developments including our proposed wind farm at Doraville.”
The potential economic return to the region is not just limited to direct developer investment however. The announcement in the Republic of Ireland earlier this year by US technology giant Apple that it is seeking proposals from renewable energy developers to power its new data centre in rural Galway signals a significant investment opportunity which Northern Ireland should be seeking to exploit, as Stephen Wheeler points out.
“We can see already that tech companies such as Apple will locate multi-million pound data centres in locations where they can have ease of access to green power from renewable energy sources. Indeed there are estimates that this green data centre push could add up to 1GW to demand in the next five years. We believe that Northern Ireland can be at the front of this push. New projects such as Doraville can not only deliver regional jobs and investment directly associated with the wind farm, but they can also provide the security of green energy supply that tech giants will need if they too are to consider locating in and investing into rural Northern Ireland. Wind energy can become the anchor that secures green data centre investment here.”
For more on SSE’s business activities in Northern Ireland visit: Ireland.sse.com