Our energy providers are the backbone of our day to day life. Whether we think about them or not, it’s hard to deny that without them, we’d be completely lost. From the first cup of tea in the morning to a hot bath before bed, energy is the key to a functional home life. They become even more important than we imagine our places of work without electricity. As such, they deserve perhaps a little more attention than we’ve been offering them. That’s no more the case than with SWALEC, who are best known today as the SSE brand in Wales, but have a fascinating history that’s truly worth repeating. So, let’s dig in, shall we?
SWALEC, like many energy companies in the UK, have a long and complicated history, one which acts as a guide to UK energy policy over the last 100 years. SWALEC was formed in 1947 when the Electricity Act of 1947 demanded the formation of twelve area boards by the closure and merging of over six hundred electric power companies that were supplying energy on a local level. SWALEC was the board for South Wales, and was called called the South Wales Electricity Board, which was commonly shortened to SWALEB. Its remit included Brecknockshire, Carmarthenshire, Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire, Radnorshire and parts of Cardiganshire. All in all, 42 private and public electricity companies were folded into SWALEB.
SWALEC remained the sole provider of energy to South Wales for decades before the energy policy once again changed with the de-regulation of the energy industry in 1990. It was at this time that the company became a private enterprise and rebranded as SWALEC, and by 1996 the company was subject to a £872 million takeover by Welsh Water, another company which had recently become private and rebranded itself as Hyder. The business plan was to save money by bringing both companies together from a single base of operations, sharing much of the same management staff and bringing their services together to offer combined deals to customers.
SWALEC in the present
SWALEC, now owned by Hyder, was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the de-regulation of the UK gas industry, and moved quickly to establish itself as a gas supplier in Wales. Launched with an advertising campaign in 1998 featuring Wimbledon F.C and Wales international footballer Vinnie Jones (who would later go on to be known for his acting), the gas business was a strong early success.
What followed in 2000 was one of the strangest events in SWALEC’s history. In February, the retail electricity and gas business, along with the SWALEC brand was sold to British Energy for a sum of £105 million, whilst Hyder kept ahold of the distribution business (which involves running the network), which was then renamed Infralec. Just six months later though, in August of 2000 SWALEC was sold once again, this time from British Energy to SSE for exactly twice as much as had just been paid for it, a sum of £210 million.
The company, now known as SSE SWALEC is one of the biggest energy providers in Wales, bringing gas and electricity to millions of homes. Unfortunately, they don’t always do the best job. The Which? consumer survey has found that SWALEC customers only give the company a 50% rating, although they do praise both their customer service and complaints handling. Part of that dissatisfaction might come from the companies’ fuel mix, which includes 54% of energy made from coal, 28% from natural gas and just 15% from renewable sources, despite the company describing themselves as a ‘renewable energy supplier’ for Wales.