After “fairly challenging” first year, company on track with 80,000 customers

The managing director of the local authority-owned Bristol Energy has said the company aims to make a profit by 2021.

Speaking to Utility Week, Peter Haigh said after a “fairly challenging” first year, the firm is now on track with 80,000 customers and expects to be in the black by 2021.

The company was launched in February 2016 by Bristol City Council to be a “force for social good” and had an original target date of 2019 to become profitable, which was subsequently revised.

Haigh added the energy supplier should become “cash neutral”, when it is “not a burden on the city in terms of needing working capital” about 12 months before it turns a profit.

Although Haigh said this will depend on what Bristol City Council wants the company to do.

“They may want us to reinvest funds back into the business or further alleviate fuel poverty,” he added.

“At the moment, we have around 80,000 customers – ahead of plan for this year – which is a number we are comfortable with,” said the managing director.

“We’ve always been clear with the shareholder and with colleagues that it’s not just about chasing volume and customer numbers. You see the sort of scale that other businesses are trying to reach, in terms of hundreds of thousands of customers, but we will always manage that growth.

“If you are going to set yourself up as a force for social good, you have to offer a prepayment tariff and a warm home discount. You have to do work with communities regarding fuel poverty and you have to offer renewable tariffs for both residential and businesses.”

A growing number of local authorities are becoming involved with the energy business, as many look to find new sources of revenue or tackle fuel poverty among their residents.

“You have to be in it for the long haul,” said Haigh. “Whether other cities follow suit or whether they wish to white label or partnership with us is something we are always interested in talking to them about.

“Our focus today is getting Bristol up and running, and making a success of that, because we feel that’s the right thing to do before we enter into other partnerships. It’s certainly an area we are keen to explore and we’ve already had conversations with a number of cities about that, in terms of what their aspirations are.”