If any sector needs challengers, it's energy. Co-operative Energy is distinctive in its products, its pricing and even its own governance model.
David Cameron wants to pass a law to ensure utility firms always offer customers the best deal. Cue regulatory and political hand-wringing about tariffs and fair pricing. Yes, that really is how bad the energy industry has got. Welcome... Co-operative Energy. If these guys can't shake up the industry, no-one can.
The Midcounties Co-operative, the third largest co-operative in the UK with sales of £780m and 430,000 members, set up Co-operative Energy in 2010 to offer all customers a fair and honest energy deal.
Since launching to the public in May 2011, Co-operative Energy has acquired 54,000 customers.
“When Co-operative Energy launched, we pledged to offer all customers a fair and honest deal and to challenge the Big Six to play fair and stamp out sharp practice,” the firm says. “We committed to and have demonstrated that we offer consistently competitive prices: Unlike our competitors, Co-operative Energy does not offer time-limited, cut-price promotions to attract customers in to switching but promise to provide consistently low prices. This is evident in the fact that when wholesale energy prices fell, Co-operative Energy was the first energy provider to reduce its prices last winter by 3 per cent saving around £35 per year for the average household.”
Can't say fairer than that.
The organisation also keeps the tariffs simple and low, and gives customers a voice in how the business is run. Thus far, Co-operative Energy has pledged to use only renewable energy sources, though general manager Ramsey Dunning is cautious about giving a 100% commitment to that in the future, though it's clearly their desired direction.
In May 2012, Co-operative Energy emerged as the winner and most competitive energy supplier in the Which? Big Switch, the UK's first collective switching initiative, designed to unite the buying power of customers and help drive down energy bills.
The first mutuals (building societies and food co-ops) emerged as a response to market failure in the 19th century. A couple of hundred years later, and in an industry that rivals banking for least trusted, Co-Operative Energy could be a real game-changer.