By Kristy Dorsey

An ethical energy supplier has announced plans to create 100 jobs at the former Selkirk office of SSE in the Borders, which is being closed down by its new owner.

Husband and wife David Pike and Karin Sode, the founders of People’s Energy, are setting up the customer service facility as their firm launches into the prepayment meter market with the aim of bringing these tariffs down to the same level as those paid by direct debit customers. The move is part of the social enterprise’s goal to eradicate fuel poverty.

Located in the Ettrick Riverside Business Centre, the office was originally the headquarters of Spark Energy, which was rescued from collapse in 2018 by SSE. The operation joined Ovo Energy as part of its £500 million acquisition of SSE’s retail arm, which was completed in January of this year.

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In May, Ovo announced that it was cutting 2,800 jobs as part of its merger rationalisation, including the closure of the Selkirk office with the loss of about 380 jobs.

People’s Energy has committed to employing 100 staff in Selkirk within 18 months, though Ms Sode said this might be achieved in a shorter timeframe. The company currently has 180 people operating out of its main base in the Shawfair area of Edinburgh, and a second office in Musselburgh.

The company is recruiting an initial training group of 50 people with immediate effect, backed by support from South of Scotland Enterprise.

“We are hoping we can start (with training) even as soon as Monday,” she said. “We like to move fast.”

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People’s Energy launched in August 2017 with £500,000 generated through a crowdfunding campaign. It expanded into the business energy market in September 2019, and currently supplies its 100% renewable energy to 180,000 customers.

The directors have pledged to make public their decisions, accounts, salaries and wholesale energy costs, and to return three-quarters of their profits to customers in the form of an annual rebate against future bills.

With no shareholders to pay dividends to, Ms Sode said the company wants to end the “poverty premium” of prepayment meters, which are disproportionately represented among lower-income households. In addition, prepayment meters do not offer access to the wider range of competitive tariffs available to direct debit customers.

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There is currently a difference of £100 annually between prepayment and direct debit plans from People’s Energy, which is lower than that of nearly all rival providers. Ms Sode said the company wants to bring that down to zero through a combination of advances in smart meter technology and “internal off-setting” from rates paid by business customers.

Welcoming the expansion of People’s Energy into Selkirk, South of Scotland Enterprise chairman Russel Griggs described the new jobs as “fantastic news” for the area.

“The Borders has a fantastic reputation for high-quality customer service and expertise in the energy sector and I see this as a much-needed boost for Selkirk, and the wider south of Scotland economy,” he said.

“As we start to move through the route map of the Covid-19 crisis, the creation of job opportunities for local people will be an invaluable contribution in rebuilding our communities and businesses.”