Ipswich: Firm which is energised by people power

Director of sales and marketing Richard Robey and chief executive Peter Bennell at Haven Power

Director of sales and marketing Richard Robey and chief executive Peter Bennell at Haven Power - Credit: Archant

Ipswich-based business energy supplier Haven Power, part of the Drax Group, has just unveiled its new branding. SARAH CHAMBERS spoke to sales and marketing director Richard Robey about how the fast-growing company is managing to stand out from the crowd.

Haven Power at Ransomes Europark, Ipswich, exterieur shot

Haven Power at Ransomes Europark, Ipswich, exterieur shot - Credit: Archant

Business energy supplier Haven Power doesn’t ‘do’ call centres.

Director of sales and marketing Richard Robey and chief executive Peter Bennell at Haven Power

Director of sales and marketing Richard Robey and chief executive Peter Bennell at Haven Power - Credit: Archant

It’s just not in its DNA, explains its sales and marketing director Richard Robey.

In fact, the business was set up as an antidote to the kind of bland and anonymous relationships with customers which its founders disliked as employees of major power companies in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The firm, which last year reached a turnover of £451million and is based on Ransomes Europark in Ipswich, was set up from scratch in 2006 by three fired-up energy professionals who were tired of the limitations which they felt the corporate world imposed on innovation and ideas.

Two have since retired, but Peter Bennell remains at the helm as chief executive of the fast-growing firm, which, from a standing start, now employs around 350 people.

He spotted an opportunity to bridge the gap between suppliers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and provide them with the sort of service he felt they deserved – a real, named person at the end of the phone line. The approach has paid off with rapid growth, a high rate of year-on-year customer retention and consistently good ratings in independent customer satisfaction surveys.

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“You always get to talk to a real person. Every single customer has a personal account manager. We don’t do this passing the call around. That is our unique selling point (USP), and that’s gone down really well,” explains Richard.

“We will maintain this strategy. It doesn’t matter how big we grow, we’ll always have named account managers for our customers. That has been working extremely well.” Richard, himself a corporate ‘escapee’ recalls their bland call centre approach with distaste.

“You eventually get to a person or maybe even someone who might help you. That’s why Haven were set up to be different,” he explains.

Haven Power set out from the start to stand out from the competition with a radically different attitude to SMEs in particular. It was this group that it targeted in its early days, although it has since become a significant energy supplier to large ‘industrial and commercial’ (I&C) businesses as well, and has captured a number of big name customers, including Manchester Airports Group (MAG) at both Manchester and Stansted sites.

Today, SMEs account for about a fifth of its business, and the rest is with some of the UK’s big corporate companies.

Haven’s growth has been ably supported by its parent company, Drax, also the owner of the UK’s largest power station located in North Yorkshire, which is forging a radical new future for itself by diversifying into biomass.

Drax’s power plant dwarfs its nearest rivals: its six giant generators have a capacity of 4,000 megawatts of electricity, making it nearly twice the size of the next largest power station in the UK. It bought Haven Power in 2009 from Welsh Power, which provided the initial finance to fire up the business.

In 2013, Drax converted one of its six ‘sets’ to burn sustainable biomass instead of coal. It’s part of a long-term plan to reduce its own carbon footprint and provide its customers with a renewable energy alternative. Eventually, under its current plans, half of its generating units should be converted to biomass.

It is an ambitious plan, and puts Drax in the vanguard in terms of converting plant on such a scale.

It was a brave decision, says Richard, but reflects a climate in which more and more legislation was emerging to clean up coal-fired stations. The Drax station is the cleanest coal-fired power station in Europe, he adds, but the business wanted to bring its CO2 emissions down still further, and move towards renewable energy production. Changes to the regulatory regime have helped the company to overcome some of the obstacles by providing the much needed certainty for investment. The cost of the biomass conversion project is in the region of £650million to £700m, which includes investment at Drax Power Station and upstream investment in wood pellet plants and a port facility in the US, as well as investment to ensure compliance with forthcoming emissions legislation.

The fuel the boiler burns is sourced mainly from North America, with some supplies from other countries. In order to ensure a secure and reliable supply of sustainable biomass, Drax has created a third arm to the business – Drax Biomass, a development and operating company. It is building biomass pelleting plants in America so that the fuel can be shipped to Britain in as efficient a form as possible. Once at the plant, the biomass pellets, like the coal, are ground down to create a dust, ensuring they burn at maximum efficiency.

The Drax Power Station is massive, and typically provides 7-8% of the UK’s electricity needs, so a conversion on this scale is of phenomenal importance – not just to the business, but also to the UK as whole and will result in a “massive” reduction in CO2 from the plant, says Richard.

Drax sells the majority of its power through the wholesale market and the remainder through Haven Power. That means Haven can supply firms with Climate Change Levy (CCL) exempt electricity from a completely renewable source without those businesses having to pay more for their power.

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